Author: Bill Tanner
The system for housing asylum seekers faces “catastrophic failure” with councils forced to step in and prevent mass homelessness, government has been warned.
An “unprecedented” number warning letters to the Home Office from council leaders across Yorkshire, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland, the Welsh and Scottish governments and by Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow council stress the voluntary system is on the verge of collapse.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been urged to “get a grip and personally intervene”.
There were 26,350 asylum applications last year, and new asylum accommodation contracts – one of the government’s largest procurements, worth more than £4bn over 10 years – are out tender.
The councils cite little to no public or parliamentary scrutiny of the contracts among their key concerns.
Stakeholders crucial to the long-term sustainability of the system fear a repeat of failures that led to local authorities being forced to step in to prevent mass homelessness of asylum seekers.
In some areas, including the north-east, Yorkshire and Humber, and Northern Ireland, there have been no successful bids for the contracts while G4S – hit by financial losses while running the service since 2012 – was not accepted by the Home Office.
New bidders are being sought for the 10-year contracts, leading to fears that councils may have to accept higher numbers of asylum seekers and poorer quality accommodation.
The £660m procurement for asylum housing in the regions of the councils represented in one of the joint letters to the Home Secretary including Barnsley, Leeds, North East Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Sheffield and York, is one of those which has collapsed.
One letter, signed by the leaders of councils including Bradford, Calderdale, Doncaster, East Riding, Hull, Kirklees, Selby and Wakefield, warns Sajid Javid of a significant risk for the 5,500 asylum seekers in the region and asks him to “personally intervene to enable the Home Office to get a grip on the asylum system”.
“We have still not been approached by the Home Office to work collaboratively on risk management and strategic planning, and we are disappointed in the decision taken to exclude local Authorities during this period, and, in more recent weeks, to seemingly limit public scrutiny until the re-tender process was closed,” the letter stated.
The letter adds that many towns and cities across the north of England have more asylum seekers clustered in a handful of wards than entire regions in the south and east of the country.
“Being an asylum-dispersal area is voluntary and some local authorities in our region have over recent months been giving serious consideration to actively pursuing withdrawal,” it says.
Dave Brown, the head of Migration Yorkshire, said: “This letter is unprecedented and the potential impact on how Yorkshire is able to support those people fleeing persecution is almost unthinkable.”
Sir Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley council, said the system is “teetering on the edge”.
Aileen Campbell, Scottish Government communities secretary, said the handling of the procurement process for the next asylum accommodation contract – particularly the barriers put up to a public sector bid for the contract and the limited engagement with Scottish partners – was “extremely disappointing.”
Welsh government cabinet minister Julie James said that a number of attempts by the executive to gain access to the contracts had been unsuccessful.
Katie McSherry, who leads on accommodation issues nationally for Asylum Matters, said: “We are shocked that the government is pushing through such a model with the intention of it being binding for the next 10 years, without even a review period built in.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are planning meetings with stakeholders across the UK to discuss the concerns they have raised. We are committed to working closely with local partners to identify, manage and prevent welfare and cohesion problems.”