The Home Office is to use private vessels at a cost of £36 million a year to patrol the Channel for small boats amid a further delay in plans to upgrade the Border Force fleet.
A “procurement pipeline” document published on the department’s website shows it has tendered a contract for “charter of vessel(s) to support small boats operations in the Dover Straits”.
The contract is due to run from April 1 2024 to March 31 2025, with the service provider listed as “not set”.
The Home Office has been forced to pay for boats from the private sector as its plans to replace ageing Border Force cutters faces another two-year setback, the Times reported.
The document names the start date for “replacement of existing cutter and CPV (coastal patrol vessels) fleet” as March 2026 – four years later than initially planned.
As chancellor in 2021, Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to replace Border Force vessels with new cutters to improve the safety of Britain’s borders.
He said at the time that the current fleet, which is 20 years old, would be retired and 11 new vessels would come into service to help tackle organised crime and illegal migration.
The ongoing delays in procuring new vessels could damage Border Force’s ability to monitor the Channel and bring ashore migrants crossing from France in small boats.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All commercial contracts are in line with government procurement rules which are designed to ensure the best value for taxpayers.
“We closely monitor contractor performance, including financial results.”