G4S and Carlson Wagonlit: profiteers scrabble for more Home Office contracts

This week secret filming by a brave whistleblower gave a glimpse of the incessant brutality inside the Home Office’s Brook House detention centre. But the prison’s private contractor, G4S, is still hoping that its deal to run this and neighbouring Tinsley House will be renewed. 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.

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’s “hostile environment” for migrants is an outsourcing goldmine for private business. Currently, nine of the Home Office’s eleven detention centres are run by private companies. Besides G4S in the two Gatwick centres these are Mitie (Colnbrook, Harmondsworth, Campsfield House); Serco (Yarl’s Wood); GEO (Dungavel); and Tascor, a subsidiary of Capita (Larne House and Pennine House short term holding facilities). Capita/Tascor is also 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 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, when contacted, would not comment on the tender process.

From cage to slum: new asylum housing contracts announced

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. The system was last put to tender in 2011, under a scheme called “Compass” which invited companies to bid for six regional areas. Three all too familiar names won the deals: G4S, Serco, and a joint venture involving Reliance — the company which later sold its prisoner transporting division to Capita, who then renamed it Tascor.

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 mega-corps move refugees from cell to “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.

The Compass contracts, and above all G4S, became a byword for squalor, management intimidation, and facilitating racist attacks (after G4S-run asylum homes in the north east were targeted because of their identically painted red doors). 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 have refused calls to say how much money they are actually making (or losing) on the deal, and the complaints may be more of a negotiating ploy rather than representing any real financial hardship.

The South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) has been active in exposing and fighting against G4S’ slum housing. Member John Grayson told Corporate Watch that the group is ” determined to lobby, campaign and take direct action to prevent for-profit companies, in particular security companies like G4S and Serco, getting the new contracts to house asylum seekers who are waiting for the outcomes of their asylum claims.” In Grayson’s view:

“Asylum housing, with G4S and Serco dominating the contracts, has become an essential part of the UK deterrent asylum system. In May 2012 Theresa May, then Home Secretary, promised to create a ‘hostile environment’ for asylum seekers. In June 2012 the Home Office rewarded two of the largest international security companies, G4S and Serco, with no experience of social housing, asylum housing and transport contracts worth a published £620m value and a potential £1.7bn price tag. We need to demand an end to the U.K.’s deterrent reception and asylum policies. The asylum housing contracts should be offered to not-for- profit companies, housing associations, etc.”

Carlson Wagonlit: deportation travel agents

The renewed £5.7 million “travel services” contract , announced on 21 July, 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.

Carlson Wagonlit is already well ensconced in this job, which it has been doing since 2004. Carlson is a global business travel services company, i.e., a large scale travel agent and booker for companies and government agencies. Its official head office is in France, but it is 100% owned by US conglomerate Carlson Companies Inc. It claims to be active in more than 150 countries. (See our January company profile here.)

See also our most recent overview reports on detention centres and deportation charter flights.