Digital borders upgrade needed, think tank says

A new report published by the Reform think tank, The future of public services: digital borders, argues that better sharing of data and information is required if the UK is to meet traveller demands.

The paper, the fifth in a series looking at the transformative role technology will play in the future delivery of public services, identifies opportunities for new technology to improve the security and efficiency of the UK border for trade and passengers alike.

The UK is an increasingly popular place to trade and visit. This is a good thing, but must be matched by a border capable to securely processing visitors and efficiently facilitating trade. Leaving the EU customs union would quadruple the number of customs checks required at the border – to 390 million a year. The number of people travelling to the UK each year – currently 123 million – is set to double by 2050.

Receiving passenger information before people board planes, trains or boats leaving for the UK can help border forces more quickly process passengers – through facial-recognition e-gates, for example. Better information can also stop suspect travellers entering the country, even before they leave countries to travel. In 2015, fewer than one third of people refused access to the UK were done so before they travelled.

Sharing data through new technology can improve the efficiency and security of trade entering the UK. Some of this is still paper based. Digital portals, with real-time information sharing through Internet of Things sensors, can provide details of travel routes and cargo status – allowing border forces to more accurately target suspect cargo. This can cut some inspection times from six hours to 12 minutes. It could also improve tax receipts: between 2013 and 2016 the UK underestimated the volume of Chinese textiles entering the country, losing €2bn of tax receipts.

The UK could also charge non-British visitors a small contribution to invest in the UK border, following the lead of many other countries. A £10 fee would be in line with the USA’s charge for international visitors. This could raise up to £450 million a year, equivalent to 80 per cent of the UK Border Force’s 2016-17 budget.

Upgrading the UK border will make it an asset, the report’s authors add. Better data use facilitated by new technology will deliver a world-class border for a world-class economy.

The full report can be read here.

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