Border force replaces AO recruitment with apprenticeships

Border Force (BF) has confirmed to PCS plans to replace AO recruitment with the recruitment of apprentices in the directorate.


Apprenticeships were introduced in England as flagship government policy with support from all the main political parties to offer meaningful opportunities into work and careers and to increase social mobility.

Government departments are supposed to act as exemplars to other employers for how these schemes should operate.

The Cabinet Office agreement on apprenticeships established an extremely important framework on which all government apprenticeship schemes are supposed to run. Under this agreement apprentice pay should be equivalent to the level of the work they undertake.

Since April 2017, the department has been externally recruiting apprentices to an apprenticeship grade at a salary of £15,123 (national) and £18,148 (London). Home Office AOs are on salaries of £20,721 (national) and £24,777 (London).

PCS Home Office Group has been working to remove the exploitative elements within department’s apprenticeship schemes.

Border Force announcement

In September  PCS was informed of job advertisements for 263 apprenticeship posts in BF (closing date 31 August) and of plans to replace AO recruitment in BF with the recruitment of apprentices.

When questioned BF HR confirmed this plan and provided details of the recruitment of 495 new apprentices in Border Force.

PCS reps identified that this was the first breach of the Cabinet Office agreement (trade unions should be engaged by departments on their workforce planning).

BF attempted to give verbal assurances that apprentices recruited as part of this scheme would not be undertaking the full AO/AIO role. This was quickly exposed as unworkable by PCS.

BF supplied PCS with the apprentice standards following the meeting. The document was entitled apprenticeship standards “operational delivery officer standard”.

The introduction states

“Duties will depend on who the public service employer is and what they are responsible for in central or local government”.

This shows the ODP apprentice standards are the same across the civil and public sector.

In the civil service the Home Office is the only one of the larger departments PCS which is not paying apprentices the substantive rate for the type of work they are doing.

This is a breach of the Cabinet Office agreement.

BF stated that a review is underway for “reward and recognition” of apprentices within the Home Office.

In the interim BF are the only area currently planning to externally recruit apprentices on the lower rate while they still can.

PCS highlighted that the recruitment exercise appears to be a response to Brexit to “chuck as many bodies as possible” at the borders on the cheap without any regard to work they would be doing, whether they could legally do it, regardless of any JEGS exercise (which PCS requested) and without any due regard for how this would actually contribute to securing borders after Brexit (if this occurs).

We have asked for the apprentice recruitment exercise and the plans to end AO recruitment are brought to a halt. Failure to do so will result in a PCS campaign.

PCS success

Previously PCS have mounted successful campaigns around apprenticeships.

In October 2018 the Cabinet Office announced it was terminating the contract of Premier Partners – the learning provider for apprenticeships in the Home Office, DWP and HMRC.

Following a successful campaign by group supporting branches, the department announced in April 2019 it was converting the legacy Premier Partner apprentices on to substantive contracts – but did not mention the part PCS played in forcing this decision.

The PCS campaign plan had involved a detailed schedule of how and when PCS would escalate its activity – including approaching MPs and the media – if negotiations were unsuccessful.

The Home Office apprenticeship team is aware that PCS has the infrastructure in place to respond quickly to negative developments for members. Unfortunately, BF senior leadership team are not.

PCS response

The BF announcement is a kick in the teeth for BF members. The default entry level into the directorate will be below the Admin Assistant grade. Senior management is devaluing the role of members at borders at the same time they will be asked to sort out whatever mess is made by Brexit.

Members should be prepared for advice on action they can take to support the PCS campaign to reverse this change in policy and the breaches of the Cabinet Office agreement.

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