17 May 2023

Committee of Public Accounts publish report on 'The Performance of UK Security Vetting'

The report is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The government has two months to respond.

United Kingdom Security Vetting (UKSV) is the business area within the Cabinet Office that delivers national vetting services for all government departments and a wide range of other public bodies, as well as some private sector industries such as the aviation industry. UKSV moved into the Cabinet Office from the Ministry of Defence in April 2020 and later that year launched the Vetting Transformation programme, aiming to overhaul the vetting system, through the introduction of new systems, processes and policies. Security vetting provides assurance on individuals working with government assets and classified information. There are several different types of vetting levels with the most common being Counter Terrorist Checks (CTC), Security Checks (SC) and Developed Vetting (DV).

UKSV’s performance deteriorated significantly in 2021–22 as demand for vetting increased with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Performance against key customer service targets have not been met since July 2021 and backlogs increased significantly. In January 2022, UKSV launched a delivery stabilisation plan to try and reduce backlogs and improve turnaround times for all clearance levels. Given limited resources, it has had to effectively pause its transformation programme to focus on its recovery plan.

The report outlines a number of conclusions and recommendations for government: 

1. The Cabinet Office has failed to get a grip of vetting services since it took over responsibility in 2020. It has now assessed the impact across government that delays to vetting can have when staff are unable to progress work because they do not have the appropriate level of security clearance. 

Recommendations: The Cabinet Office should set out:

a) When and how UKSV expects to clear the backlogs of CTC/SC and DV clearances, and any changes it intends to make to its working practices to avoid backlogs building up again in the future.

b) When it expects to meet its key performance indicators for CTC/SC and DV routine clearances and deliver the service government departments are paying for.

2. The Cabinet Office is over reliant on customer demand forecasts and failed to predict changes in demand for security vetting 

Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should set out what steps it is taking to help its customers improve their forecasting and to make UKSV more resilient to changes in demand.

3. The Committee is concerned about the level of risk created by the Cabinet Office's decision to repeadtedly defer renewals for DV clearances. 

Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should develop a plan for how it intends to avoid repeatedly extending DV renewals going forward, and set out the key elements of this plan in its Treasury Minute response. The plan should include, for example:

  • when it expects to be able to renew all DV clearances rather than automatically extending low-risk cases
  • how it intends to provide the additional staff resources required to renew all DV clearances
  • what steps it will take to ensure continuity of service on other vetting service lines whilst it tackles the backlog.

4. UKSV cannot deliver timely security vetting across government with its current staff levels 

Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should set out:

  • what resourcing levels UKSV needs to make progress with its transformation programme and to achieve its service level agreements for customers’ forecast demand in 2023–24
  • what the agreed level of resourcing is for 2023–24, and
  • if there is a shortfall, how UKSV is expected to close that gap

5. The governance structure of UKSV within Cabinet Office is a barrier to transformation

Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should urgently review UKSV’s governance structures to assess whether they provide the correct balance of challenge and support to enable UKSV to achieve the much-needed security vetting transformation programme. It should summarise the findings of this review in its Treasury Minute response.

6. The Committee are not convinced that current plans for the transformation of security vetting are any more likely to succeed than previous failed attempts 

Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should set out a clear implementation plan for vetting transformation, with interim milestones for each of the new vetting levels and a realistic completion date. It should set out the key elements of this plan in its Treasury Minute response to this report.


To read the full report, please click here.

Raya Tsolova

Programme Manager, techUK

Raya Tsolova is a Programme Manager at techUK. 

Prior to joining techUK, Raya worked in Business Development for an expert network firm within the institutional investment space. Before this Raya spent a year in industry working for a tech start-up in London as part of their Growth team which included the formation and development of a 'Let's Talk Tech' podcast and involvement in London Tech Week. 

Raya has a degree in Politics and International Relations (Bsc Hons) from the University of Bath where she focused primarily on national security and counter-terrorism policies, centreing research on female-led terrorism and specific approaches to justice there. 

Outside of work, Raya's interests include baking, spin classes and true-crime Netflix shows! 

[email protected]

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