Home Office publishes details of £70m contract to house asylum seekers
Details of a £70m contract to put asylum seekers into controversial accommodation centres have been published by the Home Office, the Guardian has learned.
The Home Office has said repeatedly it wants to move tens of thousands of asylum seekers out of hotels, which are costing about £5.6m a day. But its first attempt to set up such a centre at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, in North Yorkshire, stalled after local opposition, including from Conservative politicians and the threat of legal challenges. Since then no other concrete plans have emerged.
In December, the Home Office added the £70m project to its procurement pipeline, the mechanism that it says provides a formal look at its “anticipated outsourcing activity over the next 24 months”.
Officials aim to run a “mini-competition” for the contract to design, build or renovate these centres and to manage them. The programme is due to run from June. Charities have criticised the centres as acting as “warehousing”, advocating instead for asylum seekers to be accommodated in communities. They say these centres “blur the line” between detention and accommodation.
While the Home Office has frequently promoted the idea of accommodation centres, information about how they will operate has been scant. When the news emerged last August that the Linton-on-Ouse centre would not be going ahead, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said four other Ministry of Defence sites had also been made available to the Home Office “if they want to take it up”. It is not known where these sites are and whether plans are proceeding to develop any of them.
The Linton-on-Ouse proposal was to provide full-board accommodation for 1,500 single men for up to six months, with the contractor Serco due to manage the site. A shop as well as faith and medical services were planned.
Some contract information about the plans for a national portfolio of accommodation centres can be found on the website Bidstats. It states that “new-build sites utilising modular and/or modern methods of construction and/or traditional methods” along with “wraparound services including healthcare, safeguarding and education” are required. Consortiums are encouraged to get involved.
Along with the Linton-on-Ouse debacle, the Home Office has run into difficulties with other types of mass accommodation. A high court ruling against Napier barracks in Folkestone, which houses hundreds of single male asylum seekers, found it failed to meet minimum standards. The Home Office says it has since made significant improvements to the site.
Manston, in nearby Ramsgate, is an initial processing centre for asylum seekers who have just arrived on small boats. While it is not an accommodation centre, up to 4,000 asylum seekers were held there in overcrowded and insanitary conditions at the end of last year beyond the legal time limit. Diphtheria, scabies and other infectious conditions were found at the site and one man died after falling ill.
Paul Hook, the director of Asylum Matters, said: “People who have fled war and persecution need safety, privacy and stability in order to rebuild their lives. The home secretary’s plans to warehouse them in large-scale accommodation centres will do the opposite, harming people’s mental and physical health and segregating our communities in the process.
“These centres blur the line between detention and accommodation and represent a significant shift in the way we house and support people seeking safety. People should be housed in communities, not camps. The government must learn the lessons from Manston, Napier and Linton and abandon these harmful plans.”
A Home Office spokesperson said:“The Home Office publish a pipeline of anticipated future procurements, and look at all available options to source appropriate and cost-effective temporary accommodation in light of the unprecedented strain on our asylum system.”