Is the Home Office fit for purpose?

When John Reid was appointed as Home Secretary by Tony Blair in 2006, he faced a mammoth task of re-building the Department’s credibility. In the wake of the Hinduja passport scandal, the release of foreign national prisoners under his predecessor Charles Clarke and resignation of David Blunkett amidst allegations that he helped fast-track the renewal of a work permit for his ex-lover’s nanny, there was much to be done.

Reid claimed the outdated Home Office approach was unable to cope with the rigours of modern day challenges and infamously declared it to be ‘not fit for purpose’. Odd that a new Home Secretary would attack the leadership and management of the Department he had just taken on, but he obviously felt it was a necessity to shake things up. And so he did, and he has gone down as one of the more effective Home Secretaries in recent years.

Disappointingly though, it would appear that this enormous unwieldy Department is still not able to function efficiently and effectively. The current new stories about the Windrush Generation of immigrants from the Caribbean only proves that the leadership of the Home Office is still weak and those in authoritative positions do not have a grip on what is going on under their noses.

The Windrush Generation are British citizens. People who have lived here for decades – working, raising families and are an integral part of British society. However, those who do not have the correct paperwork to remain in the UK have been fighting the system for years, so why has it taken so long for the Home Office to act? Like with so many other political injustices, it is because it has become public rather than decisive pro-activity by either Caroline Nokes or Amber Rudd.

It has been said for years that the Home Office should be broken up – it simply has far too wide a policy reach to be run properly. The question is – what responsibilities should be removed and to where? And will that not simply reverse the problem, making another Department into a monolithic structure?

Rather than re-allocating, a more competent leadership team could be the answer. Amber Rudd’s Ministerial experience was minimal before she was appointed by Theresa May having run a considerably smaller department for just a year. And much as she has been lauded as a capable performer, Caroline Nokes’ failings have shone through as she has tried to calm the waters over the Windrush affair.

To make the Home Office ‘fit for purpose’ May has to be bold and decisive – character traits she has not demonstrated so far in her premiership – and so the Home Office will continue to muddle along, wallowing in its own failings. It might be that only a scandal of epic proportions will kickstart change – let us hope someone does something before we ‘take back control of our borders’ and this becomes another Home Office debacle.