The lack of supervision over intercepted smuggled goods, including huge quantities of alcoholic drinks and cigarettes, was revealed in a report by the National Audit Office.
Comptroller and audit general Sir John Bourn said a huge growth in seizures – 1.6 billion cigarettes and 5.4 billion litres of beer, wine and spirits, together with vehicles and cash – forced Customs to use private companies to transport and store material.
His report said: ‘Customs control over their contractors has not been fully effective due to weaknesses in contract design and performance management.
‘The NAO found that there were doubts whether all items seized were actually received into store, that Customs’ staff could potentially amend records of volumes and values of seized goods, or even delete entries inappropriately, and that serious weaknesses exist in stocktaking arrangements.
‘Without adequate controls and procedures there is a high risk that goods that should be destroyed are not, and may re-enter the market illegally.
‘Customs Internal Audit Division found some evidence of goods being misappropriated in this way.’
The department has since set up a new contract with a storage contractor, which has had to introduce management information systems that will enable Customs staff to carry out independent checks.
‘Customs have been slow to sort this mess out and my committee will want to be sure that they have the strategies in place to make sure that systems and controls are established to ensure this can never happen again.’
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