The UK Border Agency's Immigration Case Work IT system is £28m over budget, as it struggles to cut the targeted £350m in costs between 2011 and 2015, the National Audit Office has said.
The agency is undertaking transformation of immigration and asylum casework by 2015, through streamlining processes and implementing a new IT programme known as Immigration Case Work (ICW).
In an NAO report published today, it states that the agency is reliant on the implementation of a £385m ICW IT system along with business process changes and better working practices to deliver cost savings and improve service delivery.
But the IT system is a year behind schedule and has exceeded its original 2011-12 budget by £28m.
"We found it had suffered from a loss of focus, poor governance structures and optimism bias in planning and reporting, although the agency took steps to address these issues during 2011-12," the NAO report states.
"At the outset there was a lack of strategic direction: the programme's board did not challenge the IT contractors about their use of resources, necessary because the contract was on a ‘time and materials' basis, meaning the agency carried the risk for any overruns," it continued.
The agency has also looked to reduce the number of staff by 4,500 full-time equivalents and replace them with automated processes, but the NAO said that the agency had reduced its staff levels more quickly than planned, resulting in a need to hire new staff to deal with spikes in demand.
The NAO did however acknowledge some progress that has been made by the agency, in both cost reductions and performance improvement since 2010. It cites the ICW's delivery of the ‘i-Search' function - which enables caseworkers to access information that is held across 12 legacy systems in a more efficient way - as an important success.
Other successes include a new document centre that will aid paperless case working and the closing down of overseas visa processing centres to reduce costs.
However, it said that "insufficiently coherent planning and delayed delivery of key projects have hampered faster progress", and despite less functionality being delivered than expected, costs have overrun. It said £252m had been spent against the budget profile of £224m, 12 per cent higher than forecasted. The agency's overall expected savings have been revised down to only £106m by 2015.
The NAO recommends that the agency should "further streamline processes across immigration and asylum caseworking" and "set more stretching targets, ensuring that the ICW programme supports rather than leads this work".
Its final recommendation was to further strengthen control over the ICW programme.
According to the head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, the agency should not be over reliant on the new IT.
"The real leadership test will be whether the agency can transform casework processing without relying solely on new IT, and whether the Border Force can improve its workforce practices and raise productivity," he said.