THE controversial government contract transferring the accommodation of asylum seekers in Blackburn and Darwen from the council to private company Serco has today been condemned by MPs.
An all-party committee said the change was ‘poorly managed’, the first year ‘did not go well’ and accommodation given to refugees was ‘often unacceptably poor’.
In 2012 the Home Office replaced 22 small contracts to provide accommodation for destitute asylum seekers with six regional ones to save £140 million over seven years.
One, worth £175 million over seven years covering the North West, Scotland and Northern Ireland went to Serco. It took over the job in Blackburn with Darwen from the council.
In June that year, council leaders and MP Jack Straw expressed concern the company could double the number of refugees in the borough from 350 to 700, placing them in the wrong houses in the wrong areas.
They feared it could put ‘intolerable strains’ on the towns’ social cohesion and public services .
A deal promising no increase in numbers was struck with the Home Office and Serco just before implementation in October 2012.
Today’s Commons Public Accounts Committee report reveals some of Mr Straw’s fears were realised.
Chair Margaret Hodge said: “The change was poorly planned and badly managed and is unlikely to yield the savings intended.
“G4S and Serco failed to inspect and check the properties before taking them over.
“The standard of accommodation provided has often been unacceptably poor for a very fragile group.”
Mr Straw said: “Thankfully, the number of asylum seekers in the borough has not increased. We managed to avoid some of the worst problems highlighted in this report, but I am not surprised at its conclusions.
“This contract has required constant high-level intervention regarding its operation from senior officers of the council and myself as MP.”
The report concludes: “The transition to the new contracts was poorly managed by the Home Office.”
Serco and the Home Office had no immediate comment to make.