The Angel Group, the UK’s biggest private asylum accommodation provider, has apparently pulled out of sponsoring this year’s Celebrating Sanctuary, Corporate Watch has learnt. The ‘festival’ is Birmingham’s version of the national Refugee Week, which is celebrated between 14th and 20th June. Since 2001, Angel had been one of the main sponsors of the event until campaigners started to protest about Celebrating Sanctuary being funded by ‘such dodgy asylum profiteers’.
In 2006, the ‘Supporters’ page on the Celebrating Sanctuary website stated: “A huge thank you to the many organisations and individuals who support Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham. In particular we’re grateful to the Angel Group who first offered support in 2001 and continue to provide core funding” (original emphasis). Although the page has now disappeared from the website, it can still be accessed via Web Archive. Other sponsors included the BBC, the City Council and big NGO’s such as Oxfam and Save the Children. This year, their twitter page stated: “This year’s events are supported by Arts Council England, PRS Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Children’s Society & Birmingham City Council.”
The events typically include a free festival and open-air concert in the city centre, and this year also contained a presentation by the Asylum Support and Immigration Resource Team (ASIRT) about the miserable housing conditions suffered by some asylum seekers (see here). The presentation, entitled ‘The Wall of Shame’, has been seen by many as a significant shift in comparison to previous years when Angel had the biggest tent showcasing its shiny houses and smiley clients. Angel is particularly famous for its miserable asylum hostels and houses.
One of No Borders Birmingham, which had been protesting against Angel’s involvement in Celebrating Sanctuary, said: “We believe it is more than likely that the Angel Group pulled out of Celebrating Sanctuary because of the adverse publicity generated by campaigners around the country. Locally, we protested against their involvement in Celebrating Sanctuary, which was essentially a cheap PR exercise to polish their image. Other No Borders groups have been protesting against their role as slum landlords in the asylum system. If it’s true that they have pulled out, this is a significant victory for anti-corporate campaigners. Another asylum profiteer has been exposed and defeated.”
The Angel Group first came into light in 2005, when the Home Office carried out an investigation into claims that the London-based housing provider charged both the Home Office and Leeds City Council for the same properties. Company records, internal emails and testimony from former Angel employees also showed the company was paid for accommodation that was “unfit for habitation” or for which it had no keys. Records further suggested Angel claimed discounts on council tax to which it was not entitled in Leeds and Newcastle (see here and here). Ever since then, Angel has been subject to a growing anti-corporate campaign, most notably by No Borders groups in Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds (see here, for example).
The Angel Group, which is wholly owned by Julia Davey, is the UK’s biggest asylum accommodation provider, alongside eight others including Clearsprings, Priority Properties and United Property Management. The nine companies had gained five-year contracts with the Home Office in April 2006 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 will expire in 2011, is approximately £135 million per year (see here). Details acquired by Corporate Watch under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Angel’s contract value is £275,441,736, the largest amongst the nine.
The Angel Group now has some of the biggest and most prestigious housing projects in the country, including the new Angel House in London’s Canary Wharf (see here). In 2003, Julia Davey is reported to have paid herself a salary of £458,000, as well as collecting nearly £1m in dividends.