Privatising Britain’s Immigration Service: £5.48 To Send An Email
By Graham Vanbergen: Corporate Watch reported last September that Britain’s Home Office had proceeded with plans to privatise some of its border control services. Frankly, this is yet another example of gross profiteering from vital services. While the UK’s plans for the “Great Wall of Calais” hit headlines, an even bigger Calais security deal has gone quietly unnoticed: an £80 million privatisation of much of the border security in Northern France.
“Without any fanfare from the Home Office, an advertisement appeared on the European public tender website “TED” on 9 July. It requested companies to bid for an estimated £80 million contract to provide “40 Authorised Search Officers, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year” for the Eurotunnel, Calais and Dunkerque ports. Three of the staff on duty must also be trained as “detainee custody officers”, responsible for holding arrested migrants in the Home Office’s detention facilities at the ports before they are handed over to French border police.”
The actual contract is defined by the words: “Searching of Persons, Detention and Escorting Services in Northern France”
This is by far the biggest private security contract yet announced for Calais. It also signals a massive privatisation of border security: these jobs are currently done by Home Office Border Force officers.
Corporate Watch continues to say that the detention “holding facilities” at the Eurotunnel and Dunkerque is already outsourced to Tascor, a Capita subsidiary, as part of another mammoth border security contract for all deportation “escorting” and short term detention facilities. That contract is also currently up for re-tender. The Home Office also has smaller private contracts in Calais for security dog handlers, won by a company called Wagtail, and with security company Eamus Cork Solutions in Dunkerque.
To put this deal into context, here are some of the largest previous funding announcements about “security” in Calais in the past years, which don’t reach £80 million between them:
- 2014: The European Commission grants €3.8 million in “emergency funding” to co-finance the creation of the “Jules Ferry” day centre
- September 2014: £12m / €15m Joint Fund is established by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Theresa May, then UK Home Secretary.
- July 2015: UK announces £2m for a “secure zone” in Calais for UK-bound lorries, and £7m for other security measures.
- March 2015: UK applies to the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) for €27 million in migration-related funds, which it receives a few months later. France also receives €20 million from the fund in August 2015.
- August 2015: “Managing Migratory Flows in Calais” Joint Declaration: UK pledges to pay £3.5m (€5 million) per year over two years towards the measures in the deal in addition to money previously pledged. The statement explains there will be an extra 500 police from the UK and France, as well as additional freight search teams, dogs and UK-funded deportation flights.
- 31 August 2015: The European Commission announces €5.2 million in “emergency assistance” for the area around the Jules Ferry centre and to fund the “transport” of refugees and migrants from Calais to other locations in France.
- March 2016: France-UK Summit releases £17 million / €22 million for Calais security (and €2 billion for drones globally).
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Amazingly, the Centre for Policy Studies, a right-wing think-tank that promotes ‘free-market’ policies or extreme privatisation produced a report that pushes for the entire UK Border Force to be a profit related private enterprise. It said: “The Government should now draw the obvious conclusion from the evidence before it and contract out the passport and immigration control functions of UKBF.”
However, it did make one point worth noting: “spending watchdogs revealed a crucial system for screening terrorists and criminals known as the Warnings Index was still being used despite being developed 20 years ago and suffering two “high priority incidents” a week.” This should not be a point lost considering the recent Manchester bombing and critical failings of MI5.
Privatising national security would of course be a disaster just like the failures of privately managed hospitals competing with the NHS have proven – it costs lives and simply doesn’t work.
Another example of immigration related privatisation disasters is Britain’s use of immigration detention centre’s. From The Guardian: “Yarl’s Wood is a Serco run immigration removal centre in Milton Ernest, built in an industrial park. Allegations have been made against Serco staff, including of sexual assaults by guards against detainees, yet the British government continues to use the facility. Britain’s privatised detention centres have a ‘prison culture’, refugee advocates say. And when detainees are released, it’s often into poverty and insecurity.”
Here, allegations are made that “The lowest price wins the contract”. They cut corners, which results in less care, lower paid staff, lower qualified staff – and at Yarl’s Wood, this deliberately aims to fudge responsibility between Serco and the Home Office. Quite simply put, privatisation offers nothing but shareholder value – to the inmates of Yarl’s Wood it is a barbaric, inhumane prison not befitting a modern democracy.
This is the crux of the matter. Profit should not be the main driver of vital services but in Britain we have a government with truly extreme behaviours when it comes to asset stripping the nation, which is becoming so normal as to cause almost no reaction from anyone anymore.
DemocracyNow describes this very British problem: “We should resist this normalisation. Viewed from an international perspective, Britain is an extreme outlier regarding privatisation. In no other advanced industrial country would quite so flagrant a rip-off have been engineered and tolerated. Nowhere else – not even in the corporate-dominated United States – is there such a degree of nonchalance about ownership and control over vital infrastructure and public services. In the UK, the attitude seems to be that if it isn’t nailed down then it is for sale. Privatisation is increasingly the British disease.”
But when it comes to immigration, just where did the privatisation influence come from. As it turns out we must consider the influence of the US on the issue of prison privatisation. Increasing costs of prison management and a growing incarceration rate in the UK led to an examination of prisons by the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in 1986. The Committee’s remit during this examination included the possibility of visiting other countries to investigate their experiences. In the end, only one trip was made – to the US.
And just when you thought that privatisation couldn’t go as far as to say, charge for a simple email enquiry – then you’d be wrong.
“From June 1st 2017, all immigration customer enquiries will be handled by a new commercial partner – Sitel UK. The main changes for customers are: all phone numbers and opening hours will change, languages offered will reduce, and customers who contact UK Visa and immigration by email will be charged £5.48. You will need to pay by credit card or debit card for contacting us by email.”
You also now have to use a credit card or debit card to speak to someone on the phone as well.
In the meantime, this obviously profitable business requires employees to actually answer telephones and emails.
So, to that end a private recruitment firm is advertising customer service roles in what it describes as “working in a fast paced and positive environment, where you are helping people in potentially challenging situations” – whilst bleeding them dry. Oh, and the job pays minimum wage. When I say minimum wage, I mean that’s the maximum you can earn – I think. It’s confusing – I quote:
“£6.95p/h rising to £7.00p/h after probation period (6 months). Over 25’s paid £7.20.
From 1st April over 25’s will be paid £7.05 per hour & over 25’s will be paid £7.50 per hour”
Just three months ago the chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, Ufi Ibrahim, warned the UK’s reputation as “a hospitable and welcoming nation” was at risk.
She said: “We are very concerned about the tonality of statements and messages going out from Government.”
Meanwhile Sally Balcombe, chief executive of VisitBritain, added the country will only remain a tourist destination if people still “find it easy to come”.