Page last updated at 01:16 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Home Office 'fitter for purpose'

Former home secretary John Reid
The Home Office has come a 'long way' since Dr Reid's criticism, MPs say

Huge progress has been made in the way the Home Office is run since it was described as "not fit for purpose" in 2006, a committee of MPs says.

Then home secretary John Reid sent shockwaves around Whitehall in 2006 when he said his department was "dysfunctional" and must be overhauled.

The Public Accounts Committee said it has made real improvement to how it manages its finances and systems.

But it said the department must prove that it could tackle new challenges.

The Home Office said it was "very pleased" by the assessment while acknowledging there was further room for improvement.

'Model progress'

Mr Reid's infamous comments about the department's immigration system came in the wake of a scandal about the release of foreign prisoners without them being considered for deportation.

At the time, he said leadership and management procedures within the department were "inadequate" and must be "wholly transformed".

There has been great improvement and things are going in the right direction
Edward Leigh MP, Public Accounts Committee chairman

Since then, the department has been split in two with responsibility for sentencing and prisons transferred to the justice ministry.

The cross-party committee of MPs said the Home Office had "come a long way" since 2006 when many of its basic operations were "in disarray".

The recruitment of qualified accounting staff in key roles had proved successful as had the reduction in its policy responsibilities.

"Such has been its progress in improving its financial management that it is now being extolled by the Cabinet Office as a model of good progress in the civil service," said Tory MP Edward Leigh, who chairs the committee.

"There has been great improvement and things are going in the right direction."

But the report says the department must better understand the return it is getting on its spending in terms of meeting its key objectives.

This was increasingly important given the prospect of looming cuts across government after the next election as both Labour and the Conservatives look to sharply reduce the national debt.

The department must show it has the "flexibility, capacity and capability to respond to new challenges as well as being able to tackle existing ones such as knowing who is in the country and the clearance of asylum legacy cases", Mr Leigh added.

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