Home Affairs Committee Contents

Supplementary memorandum submitted by UK Border Agency

  Thank you for taking the time to visit Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre on the 15 October. I hope that you and your colleagues found the visit informative.

During your visit you asked again for the specific costs of operating the centre. After seeking further advice, I regret that I am still not able to provide you with that information as it is commercially sensitive, and its release would breach our contractual requirement to keep the information restricted. I would, however, refer you to my letter of 7 October 2009 which set out the total budget for Detention Services, which has responsibility for managing the UK Border Agency's detention estate. I can also confirm that Detention Services regularly market test all our operating contracts which have an average length of around 5 years. This ensures we are continually challenging the specification, services offered and price with the market. Bids are evaluated using tried and tested methodologies, and are subject to the scrutiny of the Agency's internal investment forum. Contracts worth over £40m over their life-time are additionally scrutinised by the Home Office's Group Investment Board. The contract at Yarl's Wood was only tendered in 2007 and I amconfident therefore that it provides excellent value for money to the tax payer.

  During your visit you also referred to the Report published by the Children's Society and BID (Bail for Immigration Detainees) into the mental and physical health of children held within immigration detention centres. This report was to be published on the 15 October but had been made public on the 13 October in advance of your visit. I thought it would be helpful to provide some further details in response to concern you may have about the contents of the report.

  The study took place over 3 years ago, yet this was the first time that report had been made available to us. It involved the examination of just 24 children who passed through Yarl's Wood over a 9 month period. Referrals to the clinicians were made on the basis of selection by BID, an organisation that seeks the release of detained Asylum Seekers, which may have led to a biased sample. Furthermore, much of the information was gathered from parents themselves, whom we believe were more likely to exaggerate the situation of their children to seek their release.

  Notwithstanding that, the study was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians. At no point were healthcare or centre staff, who would have known the children, asked for their views or comments. A number of criticisms are therefore made without any corroborated evidence, or with any opportunity for the centre to comment. Indeed you saw the benefits of checking information for yourself when a family alleged that their child had been left injured without treatment, yet the healthcare staff were able to explain to you not only how the child had come to be injured, but more importantly that assistance was provided immediately to the child and the whole incident was on CCTV.

  Finally, since the study was completed, we have seen a change in contractor and a significant number of changes have been made to the way in which the centre is operated, to create a far more relaxed environment to support the children in our care. Sir Al Aynsley-Green fairly reflected this in his evidence to you. I thought it was interesting that the independent social worker highlighted a different side of the regime of Yarl's Wood when she commented twice during our meeting how they have evidence of children thriving at Yarl's Wood.

  We are not complacent on how we treat children and are constantly seeking improvementin the regime at Yarl's Wood and our processes. We also respond to well founded criticism but we unfortunately do face unfair and unfounded commentary which does not fit into this category. Can I once again thank you and your colleagues for taking the time out of your busy schedule to visit Yarl's Wood.

November 2009

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Prepared 18 November 2009