Overstretched Heathrow security forces are struggling to cope at passport controls after being overwhelmed by soaring passenger numbers, the former head of the UK Border Agency has said as staff are drafted in from ports to ease the crisis.
Tony Smith, who retired from his senior Government post in 2013, told The Telegraph a budget freeze on border resources has left a vacuum amid the continued expansion at Britain’s busiest airport.
“We have not kept up with the volume,” he said. “Heathrow has increased passenger volumes while, in reality, border force’ budget has been declining for some years.”
Mr Smith’s security concerns were expressed after a long-serving member of south east Border Force staff revealed extra staff have been redeployed from Channel ports, which have also been plunged into mayhem by a lack of French security officials.
Some Border Force officials were starting their shifts at Dover, driving to Heathrow to do three hours’ airport work, before driving back, the source claimed, adding that staff were not given sufficient time to examine passports properly.
He added: “We are being crucified. There is a high percentage of long term sick due to stress. We are being pushed completely and we cannot cope.”
Mr Smith said redeploying extra staff to Heathrow was unlikely to have any major impact on the situation at ports as the problem there is being caused by the failure by French authorities to provide enough staff.
The Home Office said it had an “agile, flexible and intelligence-led workforce” to respond to needs, adding the Border Force made “every effort” to minimise delays.
Kevin Mills of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “Redeploying staff from anywhere, particularly the south east when we’ve seen unprecedented levels of clandestine activity trying to cross the Channel, really isn’t a good move.”
Heathrow, which monitors immigration queues, said Border Force had a target of processing 95% of non-European Economic Area passengers within 45 minutes.
The number fell in June to 89.4% in terminal two, 91.3% in terminal three, 93.3% in terminal four and 94.1% in terminal five. Three of the four terminals also missed the 95% target in May.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Keeping this country safe and secure is a top priority, which is why we undertake 100 per cent checks on everyone arriving in the UK.
“While every effort is made to keep delays for passengers to a minimum, when very large amounts of passengers arrive in a short space of time, it can mean a longer wait while these essential border security checks are conducted.
“Security is not compromised when staff are deployed from other ports or airports, it is maintained. Border Force has been set up to be agile, flexible and intelligence-led, deploying quickly according to need and responding to a variety of demands.”