Small boats: Home Office spends £1.5m on tech ‘to track migrants and their property’

Written by Sam Trendall on 25 May 2023 in News

Department signs two-year deal with firm specialised in barcodes and tracking

Credit: www_slon_pics/Pixabay    Image has been cropped

The Home Office has spent £1.5m on technology systems that will allow governemnt to track people arriving in the UK on small boats crossing the channel and the property they bring with them.

A two-year contract with specialist firm Barcode Warehouse, worth £1.48m plus VAT, came into effect on 23 January. The deal – which can be expanded by two additional one-year terms – is titled “small boats location tracker”. 

The engagement is the second immigration-focused contract awarded by the department to the Newark-based firm. In August of last year, the Home Office signed a £150,000 deal for barcode-enabled wristbands and supporting systems which it said would be deployed as “migrant trackers”.

Procurement reference codes indicate that the January 2023 agreement again covers the provision of barcode technology, including scanning units and the underpinning software.

This technology will be used by officials working as part of the Clandestine Channel Threat Command, a Home Office-led unit which, according the department’s careers website, “brings together the whole of government to end the viability of the small boat route”.

Procurement information indicates that the deal will provide a “hardware, software and managed service for CCTC… [offering] an interim strategic solution to track migrants and their property in processing sites”.

Almost £1.1m will be spent during the first year of the contract, with the remaining £400,000 coming in year two.

The Home Office declined to comment or provide any additional information for this story.

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A policy paper published last summer by the department indicated that the CCTC has previously used IT systems to track migrants – particularly those considered to be vulnerable.

“CCTC has worked closely with the Border Force Safeguarding and Modern Slavery national team and Home Office IT colleagues to build a mechanism which will enable work areas to flag and trace vulnerability cases on Home Office systems,” the paper said. “This allows the journey of vulnerable people through the system to be monitored, reducing the risk of vulnerability needs being overlooked during casework and improving the support package for vulnerable cohorts.”

A few weeks before the location-tracking contract came into effect, the Home Office signed a £3.9m IT services deal with Deloitte. The engagement, which runs for one year plus an option six-month extension, covers the “provision of transition and transformation leadership services for small boats operational command continuous improvement”.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is an arm’s-length body of the Department for Transport, has also invested in “small boat trackers”. In November 2022, the agency signed a three-year deal with digital mapping company Mapyx, which will provide GPS-enabled technology, according to a procurement notice.

“The requirement is for the provision of GPS trackers to located and recover abandoned vessels quickly to enable us to confidently identify reports of abandoned vessel sightings,” the notice added.

The effort to ‘stop the boats’ has become one of the government’s foremost policies in recent months, and featured among the “five promises” made to citizens at the start of the year by prime minister Rishi Sunak.

The policy is supported by the Illegal Migration Bill which, if it becomes law, would prevent anyone arriving in the UK without formal authorisation claiming asylum.

Among the proposed new law’s many critics is the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby who has called the bill “morally unacceptable and politically impractical” and, in his role as a member of the House of Lords, has put forward amendments to the legislation.

Figures published earlier this year by The Refugee Council indicated that the majority of the people that arrived in the UK last year via small-boat channel crossings “will be recognised as refugees through the asylum process”.

The charity’s analysis of government data found that, of the 45,746 people that arrived on small boats in 2022, about one in five – 8,700 – were children.


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on


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