The Home Office has handed outsourcing giant Serco a £200m contract to manage its Gatwick Immigration Removal Centres, which include the Brook House facility that has been the subject of damning abuse allegations.
The eight-year deal was announced on the day that a National Audit Office report said the department had a record of facing “delivery and coordination challenges” when it relied on other government bodies, law enforcement agencies and private sector contractors to deliver services.
A 2017 investigation by the BBC TV programme Panorama showed detainees being abused by staff at the facility, which was run by G4S, along with the Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre, also at Gatwick.
The NAO also noted that despite concerns about the operation of the centres, the Home Office found it necessary to extend G4S’s contract to run the facilities for a further two years to allow reviews into issues raised by Panorama to be properly investigated. A 2018 procurement process to find a new operator was cancelled but a new exercise was launched last summer.
G4S still runs Brook House and Tinsley House and will continue to do so until Serco takes over towards the end of May. Serco already runs the Yarl's Wood IRC in Bedfordshire.
The NAO's departmental overview report said the Home Office had admitted “in retrospect” that its current Brook House and Tinsley House contract with G4S “did not provide it with the levers it needs to manage performance”. The watchdog noted that the department had been unable to “impose any significant financial consequences for the abuse of detainees” at Brook House.
It said the Home Office had stated an intention that the new IRC contract would include performance measures covering staff recruitment, induction, training, mentoring and culture.
“It also wants to establish a contractual role for the department to monitor the appropriateness of the use of force against detainees, and care of staff and detainees following an incident,” the NAO said.
Serco said that in addition to managing Brook House and Tinsley House, the new Gatwick IRC contract would deliver pre-departure accommodation services that are currently operated under a separate arrangement.
It said it planned to recruit roughly 170 additional staff, taking numbers up to “approximately 580”, in a move that had been mandated by the Home Office. Current G4S staff will TUPE across to Serco.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said Serco’s contract – which is scheduled to run until 2028, but can be extended for a further two years – included ambitious plans to improve the two main centres at Gatwick.
“This contract is a major step forward in our programme of immigration detention reform,” he said.
“It will significantly improve the day-to-day lives of detainees and the staff who support them.
“The government’s priorities for immigration detention reform include minimising the use of detention and strengthening decision-making and safeguards for the vulnerable, while continuing to tackle abuse of the immigration system.”
Serco group chief executive Rupert Soames said staff and managers at Gatwick IRC had worked hard to achieve improvements in recent years and the firm looked forward working with them to drive further change.
“The Home Office has made significant investment in the design and resourcing of the new contract, and we are committed to ensuring that there is a healthy, decent environment in the centres for all residents and employees,” he said.
When the Home Office launched the procurement process for the Gatwick IRC contract it gave the value as up to £260m, if the option of a two-year extension was exercised and the contract ran for a full 10 years.