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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Blunkett admits huge asylum overspend
Illegal asylum seekers to penetrate French end of Channel Tunnel
The government says the asylum budget is not enough
David Blunkett has confirmed the Home Office overspent on its immigration budget last year by over 600m.

The home secretary said the original budget was set at 403m, but the actual cost was 1,052m.

The Sunday Telegraph has predicted the overspend at the end of this financial year could total 1bn - a figure described as "terrifying" by the Tories.


The UK's asylum system has spiralled completely out of control

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin
A Home Office spokesman admitted the department's budget was "unlikely to cover costs" this year, but said no official estimate of the overspend had been released.

Mr Blunkett said the government was not concealing last year's overspend, which have been laid in the House of Commons library.

He added: "I am working, as everyone knows, to dramatically cut down the cost for this year."

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett: Working to cut asylum costs

He agreed the overspend was down to an inefficient process for dealing with asylum seekers.

But said: "It is a damn sight more efficient than in 1997.

'Not good enough'

"Then the average turnaround was 20 months, it is now a year and 70% of the cases over the last two months have gone through the initial decision-making process in the target time of two months."

But he said things were "not good enough", blaming both the "lengthy appeals process" and the first decision hurdle for slowing down the situation.

Using figures for the last financial year, The Sunday Telegraph has estimated that 1,474m will be spent in 2002-3 rather than the 434m budgeted.

Oliver Letwin
Letwin: Asylum costs have "spiralled"

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin reportedly said the figures showed the UK's asylum system had "spiralled completely out of control".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "If the Home Office has not allocated enough money to deal with asylum seekers, then that is a result of bad Home Office planning."

High bills for dealing with immigration and nationality was in part due to "incompetent administration", he said, letting a backlog to build up over many years.

If it did overspend, the Home Office will have to apply for Treasury reserves.

The paper's estimate was based on official figures released by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) - an arm of the Home Office.

French talks

Mr Letwin reportedly told the Sunday Times this year's predicted 1bn overspend could pay for "an extra 30,000 policemen".

Speaking later to the BBC, Mr Letwin suggested that other countries should be persuaded to accept responsibility for more of the asylum seekers that eventually come to Britain.


In the end we have got to do something in terms of asylum appeals but also in alternative routes to enter this country

David Blunkett, Home Secretary

"If we had a proper set of bilateral agreements - in particular with France - and if the numbers of asylum seekers coming to this country dropped to the level of the applications in France, then a huge proportion, almost half, of the sums we're talking about would be saved."

Mr Blunkett said: "In the end we have got to do something in terms of asylum appeals but also in alternative routes to enter this country."

To this end, he said the government was doubling the number of work permits issued.

"This enables people to sustain themselves, contribute to the economy ... and of course be integrated into society," he said.

The IND budget pays for benefits for asylum seekers, reimburses local authorities and also funds the UK Immigration Service and the National Asylum Support Service.

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UK Home Secretary David Blunkett
"I am working now... to dramatically cut the costs for this year"
See also:

31 May 02 | Europe
27 Nov 01 | Europe
30 May 02 | Politics
01 Jun 02 | Politics
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