Border Force given 80 more staff in May to cut Heathrow queues

The Border Force must change the way it works so people are not left queueing to get into the UK for too long at Heathrow, the immigration minister has said.

Damian Green announced plans to introduce an additional 80 staff this month to help ease the lengthy queues as the row rumbled on about the damage being done to the UK’s reputation and its ability to handle the Olympic Games.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the queues at passport control left a “terrible impression of the UK”, while business groups have raised concerns that delays could drive important international trade away from London.

But Green said it was not just a case of bringing in more staff. The Border Force needs to be more flexible and look at how and when it deploys its staff, according to the minister.

“The problem is that people, at certain times, on certain days, have to wait too long,” said Green. “We’re addressing that problem.

“Border Force need to change the way they operate, we need to work better with the operator BAA and with the airlines, and, as of today, we are instituting some changes as the summer starts.

“During the course of May we’re employing 80 more people.”

Green said a central control room will be set up to let staff know “what’s happening at all terminals at all times”. New shift patterns and mobile rapid-response teams will also be created to offer “additional flexibility” to meet the “peaks and troughs you can expect to get at any busy airport”.

All immigration desks at Heathrow, other key airports and ports across the South East will be fully staffed during peak periods for this summer’s Olympic Games, Green confirmed.

When asked if damage was being done to the UK’s image, Green said: “I think the key thing is the individual passenger experience.

“We have to ensure the border is secure. Security is the number one priority. But after that we have to make sure that the personal experience is as smooth as possible.”

The queues at immigration have left people with the impression Heathrow is not the best gateway to the UK, according to travel editor Sharron Livingston.

“There are alternatives. We do have other London airports for people to use but it shouldn’t be that way,” said Livingston.

“What they need to do is look to get more staff at the border control area so people don’t need to look elsewhere. Right now it’s not that busy, but imagine when it is.

“This is a big year. We have got the Diamond Jubilee, we have got the Olympics. London’s a very busy area and we need to get into a position to make it as smooth as possible.”

Livingston said people should not have to wait more than 20 minutes in any queue.

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