Episode 4

 

February 2010
updated December 2011
 

 

It's taken a long time but finally feisty Lin Homer, Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency, has made it into the office of Sir David 'Panic' Normington KCB, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. But not for long ...

lh: Morning, Panic.

dn: Don't call me that, Lin, and don't sit down. We're off to see GOD. In His Grotto.

lh: Why am I being fired?

dn: You're not. Can't afford to lose you, Ms Public Servant of the Year. Come on. Let's go.

(They wander round the corner to the Cabinet Office. Sir Gus O'Donnell doesn't actually work in a grotto, but a perfectly normal room.)

sgod: David, Lin, lovely to see you, thank you for coming. Bit of a bumpy morning. Just had someone on the phone from one of the EC's bottomless pit of Directorates-General. Couldn't understand a word he was saying. Think it was a him, or maybe it was a woman with a deep voice, can't always tell. Seemed to be very upset about Erasmus. I thought that was sorted out centuries ago, didn't know the Pope was still all prickly about it ...

dn: The Pontiff has a long memory, Gus, but don't worry, I think I had the same factotum hosing sweet nothings into my ear earlier on, and this particular Erasmus is the software security expert who spilled the beans about the Project STORK cock-up.

sgod: But that was ages ago.

dn: With these dinosaurs, the stubbed toe message can take a surprisingly long time to reach the brain.

lh: Yes, I am still here ...

sgod: Lin, Lin, sorry, yes, but actually this is germane. After all, who was the leading energy-efficient light of STORK, spearheading the project for so long? James Hall, that's who. And David and I have a little proposal for you. Well, quite a big proposal, really. David ...

dn: Yes, um, Lin, er ... what do you think a passport is?

lh: ... look chaps, I've got borders to defend, ...

dn: Alright, let me try again. When a person applies for a passport, he or she has to be interviewed, identify themselves by answering certain questions about their history, and have a photograph taken and give their fingerprints. That way we can lock them securely to a single identity for life ...

lh: "Lock" them! That's just a butch way of saying "register" or "record" ...

sgod: Yes, quite, but what David's saying is that when a person applies for a visa, it's very much the same. They have to give your people at UKBA a lot of biographical information and their biometrics and they have to be enrolled onto the National Identity Register ...

lh: ... they would if we actually had an NIR, but we don't ...

dn: Don't worry about that, all in good time, the thing is that the process is the same, you folk at UKBA can do it for visas and Hall's dementors at IPS will be able to do it, too, if we give them another 15 years or so, for ID cards. Process is all-important. Once you've got the process buttoned down, there's not much point having two organisations doing it, is there?

sgod: Precisely. You only need one. One organisation. Frankly, the EC have been getting pretty restive over the years, impatient even, when is Hall going to get his caravan on the road?

lh: Caravan?

dn: What we mean is that IPS have had four years, their predecessors had been at it since at least 1999, so it's more like 10 years, and there's still no wretched ID card scheme in the UK. Not a sausage. EC not best pleased. Ditto Blunkett. Ditto PM. And if the Daily Mail ever notice, we've had it. We can't go on not delivering ...

sgod: ... and what's more, we're not not delivering, you've been accreting registrations, admittedly for visa applications, not ID cards, at the rate of two million a year, and that, by anybody's standards, is ...

dn: ... motoring, Lin. A passport allows you to cross a border ...

lh: ... no it doesn't ...

sgod: ... it acts as a proof of entitlement, it establishes your credentials, rather like a visa ...

dn: ... or an ID card. If you want to prove your right to work in the UK, an ID card is just what you need. It allows you to cross the employment border and to claim your entitlement. It's not a physical border, of course, not a geographical border, or at least it doesn't need to be, ...

sgod: ... no, it's more a sort of a figurative border, an administrative border, a legislative border, ...

dn: ... an electronic border, as you might say. And borders is sort of what you do, isn't it, Lin. You're very good at them. Hall's gone. As you know. And Gus and I were wondering if maybe ... you might like to take on, or shoulder, you know, his burden, or fardel ...

lh: Yes, it would be a bit of a fardel, wouldn't it. Suppose I agree that I could manage this job. There'd be a few things to sort out.

sgod: Anything.

lh: I want those SmartGates removed from my airports.

dn: No problem. They don't work. Everyone knows that ...

sgod: ... even the Australians. SmartGates just clutter up the billabong ...

lh: ... and I don't want the pantybomber scanners. They discombobulate the parishioners. That makes my staff's job harder. And they attract the wrong sort of recruit ...

dn: ... consider them gone ...

sgod: ... all those X-rays, very bad for you ...

lh: ... and I don't want to do passports, someone will have to do them for me, is Bernard Herdan still around?

dn: He is pursuing a life of crime at the National Fraud Authority just at the moment, but we can get him back, he'd be very pleased, he's been issuing passports since at least the time of Palmerston, Dr Herdan is veritably the maestro of the passport, the virtuoso of the machine-readable travel document, and he's yours ...

lh: ... and can I get rid of the rest of the zombies?

sgod: That decision is out of my hands, Lin, in the present economic climate it becomes a Treasury matter, exclusivamente, the exigencies of expenditure cuts dictate ...

lh: ... good. Well in that case, I must say you do me a great honour, I do realise that, and it only remains for me to tell you why I have to say no and why I have to resign.

(Two grown men with their mouths hanging open in horrified disbelief. OMG. Consternation and confusion. What will happen next?)


9 December 2011 – Lin Homer to take top job at HMRC


David Moss has spent seven years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.