Revealed: one bed at Dungavel costs taxpayer three times the average wage each year 5

Revealed: one bed at Dungavel costs taxpayer three times the average wage each year

Each bed at Dungavel immigration detention centre will cost taxpayers £74,000 per year – three times the Scottish average wage – after a new contract was agreed to run the controversial facility in South Lanarkshire.  

The Home Office has published details of a ten-year contract worth £92m with facilities management firm, Mitie, for “maintenance and security” at Dungavel – Scotland’s only immigration removal centre. 

If the detention centre continues to run at its 125-person capacity throughout the ten-year period then keeping one individual at the detention centre for a year would cost the taxpayer £74,000. The yearly average wage in Scotland was £25,616 in 2020.

Dungavel has not been at full capacity for a number of years, though, meaning the cost of each bed in use could be far higher. In June 2021 just 29 people were being held at the South Lanarkshire facility, although this was partly to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission. 

The human rights lawyer, Aamer Anwar, told The Ferret that the new contract proves there is no economic “rhyme or reason” to the Home Office’s “barbaric” immigration policy. Campaigners argued that the cost of maintaining Dungavel shows “community-based alternatives” to detaining asylum seekers would not only be “more humane”, but also cheaper.

Asylum seekers living in the community are provided shelter and an allowance of £37.50 a week. This means that the average individual housed in the community and seeking asylum currently costs the taxpayer £1950 a year, plus the value of their accommodation. 

The Home Office said its aim with the new contract was to deliver “value for money for the taxpayer whilst treating people with dignity and decency”. 

Profiting from ‘hostile environment’

In September 2021, The Ferret published research exposing the UK’s increasingly privatised immigration and border industry. 

The study identified 213 companies involved in deportations, surveillance, border construction and detention in Europe and the US – including at least 70 firms linked to UK Government contracts. Critics at the time accused private firms of profiting from the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy. 

The list of companies included Mitie, which is the largest private detention services provider in the UK, with a total of 13,000 detainees under its charge. The firm – a “strategic partner” of the Home Office – is also involved in “securely escorting detainees” to their countries of origin and manages holding rooms at multiple sea and air ports.

Alongside Dungavel, the company has been contracted to run a controversial new women-only detention centre, Derwentside, in County Durham. The Home Office was accused of betrayal over the plan to open Derwentside, after previously pledging to reform the system and reduce the number of women held. 

Following the announcement it would run Derwentside in July 2021, it was reported that Mitie has a Tory peer on its board. Baroness Couttie, who is listed as a non-executive director, was given a lifetime seat in the House of Lords by David Cameron in 2016.

‘Business as usual’ at Dungavel

At the end of September, the most recent figures available, 91 people were held at Dungavel. This is more than three times as many as were detained there at the end of June, a fact which campaigners say shows the Home Office “is quickly returning to business as usual, despite ongoing public health concerns”. 

The increase has largely been caused by an influx of people to the facility who arrived in Kent after crossing the English Channel. Last month, The Guardian revealed that “highly traumatised” people, who had just survived a perilous 10-hour journey across The Channel, were being bused 500 miles to Dungavel immediately upon arrival.

Of the 91 detainees held in Dungavel at the end of September, 70 had been held for fewer than three days, suggesting they had just been transported from Kent. 

Meanwhile, the Home Office has faced continuous accusations that conditions at the centre are “inhumane” and endanger residents. 

An inspection conducted at Dungavel in July and August found that female detainees had to mix with men with a history of sexual violence against women. Inspectors noted that women at the facility had to be escorted around the site by staff to ensure their safety. 

The inspectorate report also raised concerns about the length of detention for at risk adults, including victims of torture. Of the 91 Dungavel detainees, 17 had been detained for more than three months, a further three had been there for more than six months, and one had been held for over a year. 

The cost that the Home Office will go to to lock people up shows the barbaric and inhumane nature of their propaganda that has no rhyme or reason.

Aamer Anwar, human rights lawyer

The inspection took place when the detention centre was still being run by GEO Group, who Mitie replaced when it took over the Dungavel contract in September.

In July 2018, The Ferret revealed that GEO- with the blessing of the Home Office – was paying asylum seekers just £1 an hour for work conducted at Dungavel. This was despite the company making nearly £1m in profits the previous year.

Aamer Anwar called the cost of Dungavel “shameful” and argued it undermines attempts by Home Secretary Priti Patel to “brainwash society that asylum seekers are bleeding this country dry”. 

Anwar added: “The cost that the Home Office will go to to lock people up shows the barbaric and inhumane nature of their propaganda that has no rhyme or reason.

“Priti Patel already has blood on her hands, but this is another shameful example of the extent her Home Office will go to. It’s about time that Dungavel was torn down; it has no place in Scotland.”

Kate Alexander, director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, said that as well as being “unjust, harmful and ineffective”, detention was also “hugely expensive”. 

“An immigration system based on engagement rather than enforcement, using community based alternatives to detention would be more humane, would ensure better decisions and would be far cheaper. This is the direction we should be moving in,” Alexander noted. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Delivering value for money for the taxpayer whilst treating people with dignity and decency is central to the delivery of all our contracts, including for Dungavel. 

“We have learnt from the experiences of Brook House and new operating contracts deliver significant improvements for both detained individuals and staff – including a greater focus on safety and welfare. 

“Immigration removal centres play a key role in the New Plan for Immigration to enable the UK to remove foreign national offenders and those with no right to be in the UK. This is what the public expects.”

Photo thanks to iStock/ktsimage.

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