14 MAY 2012
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The row regarding UK Border Controls lingers on. With the Olympics now only weeks away it is imperative that Government sorts out the whole issue as quickly as possible. This has been acknowledged by Whitehall. (see Justine Greening below) Your Editor has travelled through Gatwick (16:00), Heathrow (06:00) and Luton (18:00) with little or no delay. At Gatwick on a deserted mid-afternoon the electronic machine failed (“it's rubbish” according to a member of the staff). But there have been well documented serious problems with them.
Since immigration and customs were brought under a single uniformed force in 2008 border control procedures have deteriorated. Is it time to re-visit this vital area? The coalition can always blame the previous administration.
The UK Border Agency has a staff of 23,000 people located in over 130 countries. The agency plans to reduce this by around 5,200 between 2011 and 2015. Its current budget is £2.2bn.
It is a profitable organisation with the airlines contributing £2.5bn this year and £3.5bn by 2015 by virtue of Air Passenger Duty (APD). The ports and trains, which also make use of its services, do not contribute a single penny.
What is not so well publicised are the additional sums generated by visa applications. If you are from Australia or the US you do not need a visa for a holiday visit, but if originating in Jamaica and South Africa, both members of the Commonwealth, you do. This is also a major impediment for travel to the UK from many parts of the world.
The total number of visits to the UK by overseas residents last year rose from 29.6m to 30.6m, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Non-European and non-American visitor numbers increased by 12% to 4.7m – experts believe that this group consists mainly of visitors from China.
For a six month visa the current cost is £78. AERBT asked the Treasury how much this generated in a year and were told it was a Home Office figure. Three calls to the press department were not returned. We think that visa applications generate about £0.5bn. It could be more. We can only surmise and expect our figures to be disputed.
Because of the difficulties in obtaining a visa the numbers are not what they could be. The agency says that it will decide 90% within 3 weeks, 98% within 6 weeks and 100% in 12 weeks. Visit the Chinese visa section at London’s Holborn and you will get your passport back in three days. Even Kazakhstan is not much slower.
According to the Border Agency the cost of each passenger processed at the point of entry is £3.25. For all passengers the APD outbound charge is £65 minimum in, typically, the 2,000 mile band.
Frankly APD and the visa levy is a modern version of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s taxation. You could add the European eco charge too. Whether Willie Walsh and Carolyn McCall could be considered Robin Hood and Maid Marion flying the flag for the consumer is a debatable point but they are at least keeping pressure on what is frankly a robber government. An increase of staff is a quick remedy. If air travel generated, say, £3bn in 2011 by way of direct taxation some of it must be put back urgently starting with an increase in border check personnel. We want visitors to come to the UK after the Olympics too.
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