Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary information provided by the Home Office

  On the question of PSAs, we offered to explain which had been changed or dropped from the list in the Annual Report 2002 and why (Q44). The attached chart shows how the Home Office's targets have evolved in the transition from Comprehensive Spending Review targets, via SR2000 targets, to SR2002 targets. The overall number of targets has reduced in SR2002; this is because some targets have been met, others having been consolidated, and some no are longer being presented in the Public Service Agreement. The Home Office's Service Delivery Agreement targets will be agreed with the Treasury in the autumn.

  The Committee also asked why did it take the Home Office eleven months to amend a standard form (Form IS91R) used by immigration officers in accordance with a major policy change, the opening of Oakington reception centre for detention purposes? We very much regret that the form IS91R, which gives reasons for detention, was not revised sooner to reflect the Oakington process. This cannot be defended, but the Committee might wish to be aware, by way of background, that the form has been subject to wider review and it was originally anticipated that the Oakington change would be one amongst others. This took longer than expected and it was recognised, albeit belatedly, that the inclusion of a reference to the Oakington process should not be further delayed. Initially, this was achieved by way of an addendum to the form but the Committee may wish to be aware that the form itself has now been amended to include specific reference to the Oakington process.

  Without wishing to excuse the delay in amending the IS91R form, as explained to Lord Justice Collins during the relevant hearing, those who were to be detained at Oakington were nevertheless made aware of the reason why they were being detained by way of written information given to them on the journey to Oakington.

  The Committee also asked what proportion of failed asylum seekers have children under the age of 18, and therefore continue to receive support from the National Asylum Support Service until they leave the country. The information is not available. We have global figures for asylum seekers including dependants but we do not break this down to singles, childless couples and families.

  Finally, Mr Mullin sought Stephen Boys Smith's thoughts on a radio programme broadcast on Radio 4 on Sunday 14 July on the National Asylum Support Service (Q165). The programme presented a rather one sided version of NASS's performance since it began its work in April 2000. In particular it made no acknowledgement of the scale of the task facing the organisation or of the fact that, for all its failings, NASS had managed to provide housing and other support for over 70,000 asylum seekers as at the end of March 2002.

  The programme raised issues over the standard and location of NASS's accommodation and in particular cited the tower blocks in Liverpool. But as the programme made clear, those tower blocks are no longer in use and NASS has rehoused almost all the asylum seekers that were previously living there. Further NASS can only acquire housing where it is available and this may not be in locations that local councils will always regard as ideal. However NASS has now made clear to its contractors that they should avoid acquiring housing in designated regeneration areas.

  The delays in and lack of liaison with affected local authorities about contract negotiations highlighted by the programme are regretted and NASS is taking steps to avoid a repetition.

  NASS is also tackling the issue of asylum seekers wrongly housed in accommodation located outside agreed cluster areas.

  As regards criticisms of the handling of individual cases, NASS has taken steps to reorganise itself to deliver a better service and, as Beverley Hughes indicated, is aiming to develop its regional structure so as to have more staff in the regions and capable of tackling problems on the ground.

  None of this is to minimise the distress and annoyance that past failures, highlighted by the programme, have caused but as Beverley Hughes the Minister of State made clear in her interview NASS is being required to address its deficiencies and will be held to account by Ministers if it fails to make significant improvements over the next twelve months.

August 2002

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