Serco have given up a lucrative government contract to detain hundreds of asylum seekers at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre outside Heathrow, following a Home Office reshuffle on Tuesday. American custody firm GEO Group were also stripped of their contract at the adjacent Harmondsworth facility. In a surprise move, outsiders Mitie won a £180m bid to run both detention centres over the next eight years, starting from September 2014.
Serco have given up a lucrative government contract to detain hundreds of asylum seekers at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre outside Heathrow, following a Home Office reshuffle on Tuesday. American custody firm GEO Group were also stripped of their contract at the adjacent Harmondsworth facility.
In a surprise move, outsiders Mitie won a £180m bid to run both detention centres over the next eight years, starting from September 2014. This makes Mitie the Home Office’s leading provider of immigration detention services, “less than three years after entering the market”, to quote its press release.
Mitie, a FTSE 250 “strategic outsourcing company”, has less experience of immigration detention than its rivals. Mitie inherited their only current centre, the small Campsfield House in Oxfordshire, from GEO in 2011. GEO run many detention centres in America, while Serco manage nine immigration processing sites across Australia.
Only four months ago, Mitie’s Campsfield was ravaged by a major fire that spread due to an absence of sprinklers, according to the Chief Fire Officers Association.
Campaign to Close Campsfield veteran Bill MacKeith told Corporate Watch: “Mitie’s shareholders may be rubbing their hands. But what can we say of a ‘leader in property maintenance’ happy to take over a detention centre not fitted with fire sprinklers? Last October’s fire was the inevitable outcome, as the Oxon Fire Service predicted. Since Mitie took over, Campsfield’s history of mass hunger strikes, suicide and attempted suicides has run on.”
Scraping the barrel?
Although Mitie has had a shaky start, its reputation may still be less toxic than its rivals.
Serco are mired in scandal over allegations of rape at Yarl’s Wood, their women’s detention centre in Bedfordshire. Serco announced last year that they had “had decided not to re-tender” for Colnbrook.
GEO was slammed by a Prison Inspector report on Harmondsworth in January, which found that an 84 year-old man with dementia was left to die while handcuffed to his wheelchair.
Paul Ferry, Corporate Development Director at MITIE, was upbeat, tweeting:
“Delighted………Mitie awarded £180m contract with the Home Office” — Paul Ferry (@PTFerry) February 11, 2014
His colleague, Alex Sweeney, Business Development Director at MITIE, also reacted to the news on Twitter saying it was “A great day at the office”.
Sweeney used to work for GEO as a centre manager at Campsfield, until he moved to Mitie as a bid director. Shortly after this transfer, he claims to have led Mitie’s mobilisation for the Campsfield contract, according to his Linkedin profile. Thereafter, Sweeney helped Mitie win more contracts in the ‘justice sector’, including HMP Brixton and HMP/YOI Isis.
Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE, chief executive of Mitie, said:
“We are delighted that the Home Office has awarded us this contract. We will be providing the best environment possible for the people in our care – putting decency, dignity, and safety at the heart of everything we do. This is strategically a very significant contract for Mitie, as we expand our presence in the market for custodial services. We look forward to further building on our partnership with the Home Office in the coming years.”
Jerome Phelps, director of Detention Action, the largest NGO supporting detainees in Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, declined to comment on the development.