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Monday, May 22, 2006 

Do the Home Office reshuffle!

McNulty comments on the size of James Dawute.
Just when they must be thinking that things can't get any worse over at the Home Office, over two days they get hit by another 3 major cock-ups, in all senses of the term.

Firstly, everyone's favourite useless computer firm, C(r)apita (yup, the same company from which Rod Alridge resigned after being caught up in the loans-for-peerages scandal after giving £1,000,000 to the Labour party) has once again messed up, and again it's at the Criminal Records Bureau, which you might remember a few year's ago was criticised after it built up a huge backlog of cases, which meant some schools had to remain shut at the start of the year because their new teachers had not been positively vetted. This time, the boot has been on the other foot. At least 1,500 people were refused jobs or college/university places after being wrongly found to have a criminal past or record. Emma Budd for one was denied two teaching posts after being told she had been convicted for shoplifting. Why being convicted for stealing should stop you being a teacher is rather besides the point when she wasn't even guilty in the first place. To add insult to injury, Crapita and the Home Office in their usual arrogant way have refused to apologise for ruining people's lives, as err, they were erring on the side of caution, and after all, 25,000 people last year were regarded as unsuitable for such jobs as a result of their checks. That's alright then.

After the story of the illegal immigrants who were working as cleaners at the Home Office through a contractor, Sunday saw a much more regular scandal. After the Sun, in one of its rare actual pieces of public interest journalism, revealed back in January that immigration officials had been offering sex for visas, an investigation had found there was no corruption racket. Enter James Dawute, who was recorded and filmed by the Observer offering an 18-year-old Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who herself had been raped, help with her claim in return for sex. One man obviously does not sum up the whole of the immigration department and those helping them with their claims, but it rather does undermine the findings of the investigation. The Tories are understandably calling for an explanation.

And now today we have the story that our open prisons, are err, open. The Liberal Democrats obtained figures that show that 13,000 prisoners have absconded in the last 10 years. Leyhill prison had records that showed 400 had walked out over the last seven years. All rather frightening, but it bears remembering that those at open prison are those either coming to the end of long sentences and who are judged at low risk to the public, or those that are judged as no threat at all. Both are often let out to work in the community to help them readjust to society before they actually are released. The figures don't say whether they include inmates who may one night been unable to get back to the prison after work, due to traffic problems or other difficulties. They have also fought back by saying that most are quickly rearrested, and that by their nature if prisoners want to escape from open prison, they can. The penalties for doing so generally don't make it worth their while.

Even so, the solution to all of these problems is to err, swap ministers, which is exactly what John "Oh fuck, not John Reid" Reid has done, by moving Tony McNulty from Immigration to Police, and Liam Bryne, who had been in charge of policing for a whole two weeks, to McNulty's former position. Someone needs to tell Blair and John Reid that tampering with the ministers isn't going to help. The Home Office needs root and branch reform, which includes splitting the department up. At the moment it is completely dysfunctional, and responds entirely to newspaper headlines, which is exactly what today's reshuffle is meant to placate. In that way it is just like Downing Street. A headline and shouty editoral in the Sun means that Blair jumps. It's not just their fault though; it's all our faults. The result of the 24 hour news environment means that we demand instant action. It can't go on that way. Institutional incompetence needs sorting out over time, and changing jobs doesn't solve it by any stretch of the imagination.

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