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By Jo Phillips

By Jo Phillips

Computer says no – women say why?

As the Home Office loses contact with more than 3,000 asylum seekers, Jo Phillips wonders why it always seems to be the IT systems fault.

Mislaid your glasses, can’t find the car keys? It’s a familiar experience to all of us, busy, juggling the many demands on our time and brains, who doesn’t lose things from time to time or put them in the wrong place.

But now we learn that the Home Office has ‘lost contact’ with more than 3,000 asylum seekers who it had hoped to deport to Rwanda. A government minister said the Home Office was ‘used to’ losing contact with asylum seekers. Could that be connected to the fact that officials say they don’t have up to date address?  Adding yet another layer to the utter absurdity and incompetence it seems that the Home Office has been evicting asylum seekers from accommodation it has placed people into so, one would assume it at least had the address at some point.

In the modern day equivalent of ‘ the dog ate my homework’ some blame has been laid on the Home Office’s £71m faulty Atlas IT system. Ah, those pesky IT systems that screwed the postmasters, failed to deliver on NHS digital reforms, rural payments, management of offenders, air traffic control, benefits payments, magistrates courts, emergency services and more – all at huge cost to us, the taxpayers.

In 2021 The Public Accounts Committee found that the Home Office continues to struggle with IT, at a “staggering” cost to the taxpayer. Its failed e-borders project cost £340m plus £185m for a legal case against supplier Raytheon in the wake of the contract’s cancellation, plus a further £173m on a delayed successor scheme. The Home Office had given “false assurances” to Parliament, had failed to be open and transparent and had continued its “miserable record of exorbitantly expensive digital programmes that fail to deliver for the taxpayer. 

It’s not only the Home Office, virtually every government department and every minister who’s breezed through their short tenure over the past 40 years has come up with a wizard scheme that will revolutionise processes, join things up and provide value for money.  The IT companies, their lawyers and the teams of consultants and project managers must kick back and rub their hands with glee at the thought of another bunch of suckers who’ll believe everything and won’t be able to untangle it when the project goes over budget, isn’t on time and no one knows how to use it.

I’ve been in meetings with so many men in suits who are too vain to ask the how and why and what if questions – they don’t want to look stupid in front of ‘experts’ or their peers. We got an inkling of that from the Covid inquiry when former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara spoke of the macho culture and the tendency to ignore early warnings or raise difficult questions, to talk over or simply ignore women who tried to do just that. So I can’t help but wonder if that’s why some of the IT systems that have turned out to be little more than snake oil might have been more closely scrutinised if there were more women and people who actually understand IT involved in the decision making.

Meanwhile the Home Office scrabbles around trying to find the migrants it’s lost, fails to process the asylum claims of hundreds who’ve been waiting for months if not years just so Rishi Sunak can claim success if a handful of people get flown to Rwanda before the election and his ministers promise that those who’ve ‘absconded’ will be rounded up. What an appalling, shameful legacy of 14 years in government.

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