WHITEHALL plans for a volunteer force to help guard some of Britain’s borders have been dismissed as “ridiculous” and would, a trade union chief warned, “risk this country's security on the cheap".

The Home Office has confirmed that proposals for "Border Force Special Volunteers" at small air and sea ports across the UK are being discussed.

The new recruits would be used to bolster permanent Border Force staffing levels in a similar vein to police community support officers.

However, Mark Serwotka, the General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents Border Force staff, warned ministers they were "risking this country's security on the cheap" with their "ridiculous" plans.

He said: "In the last year the Home Office have increased the use of agency staff, spending a staggering £25 million last year to agency firms; a £5m increase on the previous year.

"Border Force are already using poorly trained seasonal workers at most ports and airports, not just at peak periods but throughout the year because of permanent staff cuts.”

The plan to use volunteer Border Force specials was a further move towards the casualisation of the workforce, he argued.

"Government rhetoric has claimed that they are 'strong and stable'. That is not the effect of their policies on this country. They are making our borders weaker with the use of casual labour and they are risking this country's security on the cheap,” declared Mr Serwotka.

He added: "PCS repeats our call for the Government to properly resource security at UK borders with permanent professional staff and stop these ridiculous plans to use volunteers to protect our borders."

Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for the port of Dover, has also denounced the plans, saying: "Border security is a skilled job, which takes many years of training. I would urge great caution before seeking to adopt a model like that used by the police, with special constables. We can't have a Dad's Army-type of set-up."

The Border Force carries out immigration and customs controls for people and goods entering the UK and reports in the past have raised concerns over "poor" coverage of dozens of minor harbours and landing places.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Border Force is currently considering the potential benefits of a Border Force Special Volunteer force and is in discussions with other law enforcement agencies such as local police to understand how they use volunteers in addition to their existing workforce."

An inspection by the Department published earlier this year of 62 ports, wharves, marinas and jetties on the east coast, that were normally unmanned, found Border Force officers had not been to 27 of the sites during the 15 months from April 2015 to June 2016.

The assessment said one of the risks of long periods of non-attendance by the Border Force at some locations was "there is no visible deterrent to anyone prepared to risk using these spots to land illegal migrants or contraband".

Border Force officers are based at Hull and Immingham on the Humber, Felixstowe in Suffolk, Harwich and Tilbury in Essex, but other east coast ports do not have a permanent presence. For example, the freight port of Rosyth, which receives three ferries a week from Belgium, is covered by officers based at Edinburgh Airport.

In a separate report, former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson QC also flagged up coverage of smaller south and east coast ports, marinas and landing places, saying it was "conceivable" they might be an option for returning foreign fighters or other terrorists.

The Home Office said it used a mix of expert officers, technology, data and intelligence to keep UK borders secure and has stopped tens of thousands of illegal attempts to enter the country.

A spokesman said volunteers would not be used by the Immigration Enforcement agency but added: "We're committed to ensuring that Border Force has the resources it needs to keep the UK safe and we will never compromise the security of our borders."