This week secret filming by the BBC Panorama inside the Home Office’s Brook House detention centre gave the world a preview of the abuses being committed against some of the most vulnerable in society. Abuses that are silently sanctioned by the Home Office.
Nevertheless the Detention Centre’s private contractor, G4S, is still hoping that its deal to run Brook House and neighbouring Tinsley House will be renewed by the Government. The company could also stand to make more money from another £600 million Home Office contract up for renewal: managing asylum seeker accommodation on the outside of detention. It seems that there is no end of money being earned, despite humiliating whistleblowing of the atrocious and inhumane practices of some G4S staff.
However, G4S is by no means the only corporation profiting from the detention and deportation machine. Indeed one other, Carlson Wagonlit, just had its own deal to organise deportation flights renewed for another 5 years.
The Home Office has created a “hostile environment” for migrants and this presents an outsourcing goldmine for private businesses willing to take advantage of the opportunity. Public sympathy is lacking for anything to do with immigration and sadly there appears to have evolved a culture of ‘turning a blind eye’ to practices that would be totally unacceptable in a normal prison environment.
Currently, nine of the Home Office’s eleven detention centres are run by private companies. G4S run the two Gatwick centres of Brook Hose and Tinsley House. Mitie has control of Colnbrook Detention Centre, Harmondsworth and Campsfield House; Serco runs Yarl’s Wood; GEO runs Dungavel and Tascor, a subsidiary of Capita runs and maintains Larne House and Pennine House short term immigration holding facilities.
Capita/Tascor has the additional contract of being in charge of “escorting” prisoners onto deportation flights — a contract G4S lost following the killing of Jimmy Mubenga in 2010. The planes themselves are flown by many airlines including charter company Titan Airways.
G4S’ current contract to manage Brook and Tinsley Houses is due to expire next spring. The deal was announced for re-tender last year, with a closing date for bids of 31 December. But nine months later, there is still no news on whether G4S will stay in charge, and the new contract is supposed to begin in May 2018. G4S has said that it is continuing with its bid to renew the contract. The Home Office has a habit of refusing to comment when faced with specific questions.
New asylum housing contracts have been announced too
Two new contracts to run other pieces of the UK border regime have been announced in the last month: a £600 million tender for asylum seeker housing; and renewal of the Home Office’s long-standing deportation flight-booking deal with “travel services” multinational Carlson Wagonlit.
Asylum seekers, when they’re not being locked up in detention centres, may be offered temporary housing in dispersal areas around the UK, and this housing is also outsourced for profit. For the most part asylum seekers are shipped out to slums and economically deprived estates, mostly in the North West and North Eastern England.
The system was last put to tender in 2011, under a scheme called “Compass” which invited companies to bid for six regional areas. Unsurprisingly G4S, Serco, and a joint venture involving Reliance were awarded all the contracts. Reliance later sold its prisoner transporting division to Capita, who then renamed it Tascor. So apart from logos, nothing really changed.
Thus the Home Office created a system where the same companies run both detention centres and outside accommodation for asylum seekers: a “one stop” solution where the same huge corporations move and transport refugees and immigration detainees from cell to what the Guardian newspaper termed a “rat-infested” hovel.
The new Asylum Accommodation contracts will start in September 2019 and last five years. They are likely to be divided up regionally, as in the current system. Full details aren’t out yet, as for now this is just a “consultation” period before the procurement process begins in November 2017. The winners are supposed to be picked by the end of 2018.
Questions have existed for years about how G4S managed to continue retaining these contracts despite overwhelming evidence of , became a byword for squalor, management intimidation, and facilitating racist attacks. More worryingly for the government and its corporate partners, they also hit financial troubles. In 2014, a National Audit Office report slammed the scheme, describing how G4S and Serco “struggled to get the contracts up and running”. The three companies themselves complained of losing money, because they were housing more people than they had planned for. In 2016 CEO Ashley Almanza claimed G4S could lose over £100 million on the deal, and said: “Were this contract before us today we would not be entering into it”. Any financial hit would have worsened when the Home Office exercised its option to keep the contracts running an extra two years until 2019.
Given Almanza’s comments, it might seem that G4S won’t be rushing to bid again. Campaigners against the G4S contract, though, are more sceptical. G4S don’t disclose how much money they are actually making (or losing) on these deals.
Carlson Wagonlit: specialist deportation travel agents
The renewed £5.7 million “travel services” contract , announced on 21 July 2017, went through with no such opposition. It involves booking flights for people being “removed” (the Home Office euphemism for deportation), as well as for their “escorts” (security guards). This includes both buying tickets on scheduled flights run by mainstream airlines, and chartering whole planes for the Home Office’s secretive mass deportation night flights. The contract will run for up to seven years, starting this November. The Home Office estimates in the contract announcement that it will spend £200 million on deportation tickets and charters over that period.