G4S dumps UPM, chooses new partners to house asylum seekers
The short-lived affair between G4S and United Property Management (UPM) has come to an end with the notorious security giant dumping the dodgy private landlord as its 'primary partner' in a £135 million asylum accommodation contract. According to G4S, the new 'partners' replacing UPM include Target Housing, Mantle Estates, Live Management Group and Cascade, most of which have no experience of providing housing for asylum seekers.
On 18th June campaigners noticed that the phrase “G4S has selected United Property Management (UPM) as its primary housing partner” disappeared all of a sudden from the G4S website. At the same time, UPM’s website stopped referring to G4S as “partners” and removed the company's logo from the relevant pages.
G4S later confirmed that it has dropped UPM as a sub-contractor responsible for housing asylum seekers, citing "contractual issues" as a reason. A G4S spokeswoman told 24dash that “G4S has informed UPM that owing to contractual issues we will not be proceeding with them as a supplier of accommodation services under the COMPASS contract.”
The spokeswoman added that, “These services will now be provided by Mantel [sic], Live Management Group, Target and Cascade, all experienced suppliers of housing provision and pastoral care services, whom we have already contracted.” We look into these 'experienced suppliers' in more detail below.
UPM had provided sub-standard housing to asylum seekers in the region for years. In 2006, it was one of nine companies that were awarded five-year contracts with the UK Border Agency to provide temporary accommodation for around 35,000 asylum seekers on behalf of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). According to the Home Office, the total value of the contracts, which expired in 2011, was approximately £135 million per year. Details obtained by Corporate Watch in 2009 under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that UPM's contract value was estimated at £170,152,129, the second-largest amongst the nine after the Angel Group.
In March 2012, three multinational security giants (G4S, Serco and Reliance) took over the provision of asylum accommodation across the country for the next five years. This was done under the UKBA’s Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services programme (COMPASS), which was introduced in 2009 to cut down the costs of providing asylum services. G4S was awarded two of the six new 'prime contracts', worth £135 million, to provide asylum housing in two UK regions: the Midlands and the East of England; and North East England, Yorkshire and the Humber.
According to G4S, its two contracts, which commenced in May 2012, were to be delivered “through a network of experienced strategic partners from the private, public and voluntary sectors” (see here). The 'strategic partners' selected initially were UPM and Migrant Helpline.
Despite providing sub-standard services, at least the old contractors were specialist accommodation providers. Creating two levels of contracts (prime contractors who then sub-contract smaller providers) is a growing trend in the coalition government's outsourcing of public services. It also increases bureaucracy and removes accountability even further away from the government (for more on this, see this Corporate Watch article).
As soon as the new contracts were announced, a new, diverse campaign was started in Yorkshire in opposition to G4S taking over asylum accommodation provision in the region. In addition to demonstrations, protest letters and negative media coverage of G4S' activities, the campaign has started to monitor how the contract will be implemented.
In a letter to 'corporate partners' dated 18 June 2012, the UK Border Agency stated it was “satisfied that the mobilisation period is complete and G4S are ready to enter into the transition period and move into sole responsibility for service delivery.” The UKBA's 'transition team' in the region is said to be “actively engaging with... the new and exiting suppliers and key corporate partners to effectively plan and manage the transition period.” “This is to ensure that there is minimal disruption to Service Users and the local community,” the letter added.
In May 2012, UPM began evicting and rehousing its 'service users' in Bradford, dumping them in uninhabitable houses outside the city. According to John Grayson, a Sheffield-based researcher and campaigner who has written extensively on G4S and asylum housing, at least 35 people, including families and children, were removed by UPM from Bradford without adequate prior notice. Two were reported to have been sent to Sheffield but migrant support volunteers were unable to locate them (see here).
Beatrice Botomani, a worker at Bradford Refugee Action Forum, was quoted saying: “We met UPM at the end of April and they gave a long list of pledges about not taking children out of Bradford and away from social and medical services and schools, and giving adequate notice on removals. Only a few days later they started evictions and removals with less than a week’s notice.”
In one case, a woman and her three-month-old baby were moved 40 miles, from Bradford to Doncaster, to a bare flat with no cooker, table or chairs, and only a tiny sink next to the toilet to wash dishes and clothes. UPM had given the family less than a week's notice.
The Bradford evictions became the focus of a campaign led by Bradford-based Why Refugee Women and Sheffield-based South Yorkshire Migration & Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG). Campaigners called for UPM to be sacked from the contract. An application was lodged with Doncaster Safeguarding Children’s Board for the afore-mentioned mother and child to be rehoused immediately.
The UKBA had refused to move them to more suitable accommodation back in Bradford, despite a UKBA inspector who visited the Doncaster flat declaring it “contractually non-compliant” and “not suitable in its present state for mothers and babies.” The UKBA claimed it had instructed UPM to relocate the family as a matter of urgency but, almost a month and a half later, they remained in the uninhabitable Doncaster flat. Then the Doncaster children's services department demanded that the UKBA move the mother and child back to Bradford and, within seventy two hours, they were moved back to a Bradford city centre flat.
The fiasco seems to have made G4S worry about its own reputation, so it decided to dump its 'strategic partner' and replace it with new ones. The company has reportedly recruited the chief executive of a respected Leeds-based refugee organisation, RETAS, for a prominent role within G4S to handle the evictions and relocation of its asylum seeker 'clients' in the region.
Though well aware that the campaign against G4S has a long way to go, campaigners across the country celebrated the sacking of UPM as “small victory.” Stuart Crosthwaite from SYMAAG wrote on the campaign's website: “Whichever sub-contractors G4S select we maintain our view that G4S are prison guards not landlords. Their record is one of abuse towards asylum seekers in this country and elsewhere. We should not be paying them public money to operate this contract.”
Alongside UPM, G4S had announced that its “strategic partner from the voluntary sector” would be Migrant Helpline, a Kent-based charity that “assists distressed foreign nationals.” Established in 1963 by Helen Ellis MBE as the Kent Committee for the Welfare of Migrants, it originally assisted migrants and passengers arriving in the UK through the ports of Kent. During the early 1990s, the charity began to develop services for asylum seekers in Kent, Sussex and the London area (see here). Under the leadership of Annie Ledger OBE, it became one of the UKBA contractors, providing asylum accommodation services in Kent and Croydon. According to its website, the charity plans to “expand its services further throughout the UK.” To do this, it has brought in Mrs Deborah Rowan as the Initial Accommodation Manager to replace Mr Stef Van den Heuvel.
Just before dropping UPM in Yorkshire, G4S had added a small, Sheffield-based charitable housing association called Target to its list of subcontractors. Target Housing Ltd (registered charity no. 1017481 and registered company limited by guarantee no. 02787689) describes itself as a charity “providing accommodation and support to homeless and vulnerable people.” Its “primary client group,” it says, is offenders, ex-offenders and those at risk of offending in Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham. Its aim is to “to deliver the highest possible standard of housing support and training... to help vulnerable people develop independent living and a crime free lifestyle.” The organisation has not updated the 'Partners' page on its website to include G4S.
Target Housing has become one of a growing number of refugee support organisations and charities to be sucked in by multinational security companies in the UK. As John Grayson puts it in a recent article on OpenDemocracy, “It is perhaps not at all surprising that a housing company in these difficult economic times opts to pick up business where it can. What is deeply shocking to asylum support charities and campaigners in South Yorkshire is that Target is a charitable housing association with ostensibly liberal reforming and democratic values.”
The other three subcontractors are commercial property developers and letting agents that do not seem to have any experience of providing housing for asylum seekers. Mantle Estates is a “regional commercial property developer and investor” with “a valuable portfolio of income-producing office and industrial investments.” It is owned by Mantle Holdings, a company based near Stansted airport and operating primarily in London, the South East and Eastern England. It grew in the 1990s capitalising on the “development opportunities” arising from the growth of Stansted airport (see here).
Live Management Group is a trading name of LMG (EM) Ltd, a Leicester-based company that describes itself as a “leading property management company” that manages properties across England and Wales. It has national contracts with various local authorities and housing associations (see here). Its other services include private finance (through Federal Finance), construction (through Bullion Construction) and security (through Skysharp Security Services Ltd).
Finally, Cascade Homes Group Ltd, a small Leeds-based housing provider, has been allocated by G4S to West Yorkshire (note this is different from Cascade Partnerships, a subsidiary of Kitewood Group).
According to officials and campaigners in Huddersfield, Cascade Homes has been involved in asylum housing before: once as a subcontractor to UPM, which sacked it for inefficiency, and then very briefly to Kirklees MBC to meet a surge in asylum seekers in the borough. The latter also quickly dispensed with the company's services.
G4S boasts of its profitability in ‘asylum markets’ and aims to build on the 'expertise' it will gain through its asylum housing contracts to move into privatised social housing. Once again, migrants are the guinea pigs on whom controversial policies are first tested. Unless we stop it now, this will be the future of housing in Britain.
- This article was amended on 12 December 2012. The original said Cascade Partnerships, a subsidiary of the Kitewood Group, had been given the contract for West Yorkshire. This has been corrected.