Staffing plans to tackle border-control queues at Heathrow ‘doomed’, says expert

Government plans to reduce delays at Heathrow airport’s border control by overhauling the shift system and providing reinforcements are “doomed” because they ignore the performance and engagement of individual staff, a resourcing expert has claimed.

Yesterday, immigration minister Damian Green admitted that there had been “breaches of acceptable waiting times at Heathrow” over the weekend due to the severe weather.

He announced that, in order to tackle delays in future, the Government would put in place mobile teams that could be deployed rapidly across Heathrow airport, as well as new rostering and shift patterns for border staff that would allow workers to be used to meet unexpected surges in passengers.

However, Roger Philby, chief executive and founder of HR consultancy The Chemistry Group, claimed that the plans were “doomed” because they did not tackle the issue of individual staff behaviour and engagement.

Philby argued: “The roster won’t work, and, in some way, nor will overstaffing, as this will be an expensive and inefficient answer.

“If [the Government] believes a roster change is going to solve the queue problem, it is sorely mistaken. The reason why queues develop in any face-to-face service environment invariably isn’t because of staff shortages but the behaviour of the staff that are present.”

Philby added that the UK Border Agency would need to ensure that staff care about their jobs so that they take ownership of situations, and make decisions more quickly and effectively.

He explained: “The role of border control is a noble one, protecting Britain, and there is a huge opportunity to create a ‘high-level intent’ to engage employees. The way to solve the problem is to create an environment where employees feel valued, can work autonomously and the decisions on where to put resource and how to behave is made at the front line by the operational staff.”

Unions have also attacked the Government’s plans to tackle delays at border control, labelling them as a “sticking plaster on a serious injury” that would not solve the long-term problems caused by job cuts.

The latest figures from the UK Border Agency showed that total staffing had reduced by 22% in two years, from around 25,000 to just under 19,500.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, commented: “Drafting in staff from other areas of an already over-stretched agency is like putting a sticking plaster on a serious injury, it will do nothing to stop the inevitable from happening.

“Everyone can see that the Government’s obsession with austerity isn’t working and that what UK Border Agency needs is more staff, not more cuts.”

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