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Counter-terrorism operations could be jeopardised by botched vetting software, NAO finds

The police and security services’ ability to carry out counter-terrorism operations may have been compromised by a botched IT upgrade, according to a damning report by the National Audit Office.

The spending watchdog found that new software designed to create a single system to vet security applications across government had a 93 per cent failure rate, hindering agencies’ capacity to enlist staff for high-security operations.

The software’s shortcomings meant that in July 2018, United Kingdom Security Vetting, the government’s new vetting provider, had more than 26,500 outstanding security checks and had to resort to vetting staff over the phone. It’s feared that the holdups may also be threatening other high-profile projects, including the government’s Brexit preparations.

“Considering the pressures facing government, the last thing we need is a non-functioning vetting system,” said Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office (NAO). “An effective system needs to be put in place urgently to ensure the government is able to use its staff effectively, giving them access to the right information, locations and equipment.”

The NAO report also called into question the government’s decision to merge its two existing security vetting providers. It revealed that the move had not been properly costed and is now causing inefficiencies of £17m a year. The cost of staffing the organisation is 17 per cent higher than before the merger and employee turnover has increased dramatically.

UK Security Vetting is now relying on overtime, agency staff, and contracting former retired staff to fill vacant posts. Vetting registrations have increased since the merger, as departments take on more staff to handle Brexit preparations and the UK’s rising terror threat.

In a statement emailed to NS Tech, a government spokesperson said: “National security is our highest priority and at no point has this been compromised by the new vetting service.

“We have already taken steps to address short-term challenges in its introduction, and the NAO has acknowledged timescales are improving and targets are being met.

“We will continue efforts to ensure the successful delivery of the reformed service, prioritising the vetting of critical roles as necessary.”