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Ex-home secretary says Government’s asylum accommodation ‘obviously not working’

Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel said the Government’s asylum accommodation system is in need of reform and there are “serious questions” to be asked of the Home Office.

Several members of the Home Affairs committee also raised concerns on the “opacity of Home Office spending”.

Dame Priti told MPs the current hotel-based system is “obviously not working” and proposed Greek-style reception centres where applications could be processed quickly onsite.

The Conservative MP for Witham said reception centres would ensure better accountability around public spending, in addition to providing a deterrent effect to those entering the UK illegally.

During a debate on the cost of asylum and migration, Dame Priti said: “When it comes to asylum accommodation, it’s obvious that it’s not working.

Dame Priti Patel
Dame Priti Patel said the Government’s asylum accommodation system is in need of reform (Victoria Jones/PA Images)

“I think there are serious questions to be asked of the department and ministerial direction in decisions at least over the last 14 months.”

Referencing her 2021 New Plan for Immigration, Dame Priti said: “You could break down the ultimate cost and be quite transparent about that, by planning for future accommodation needs, working to establish the Greek-style reception centres, and increase detained sites.

“Which of course speaks to not even using hotels, but actually having Government-funded accommodation which would have assisted in processing claims quickly and promptly, which clearly is the crux of all of this.”

She added: “With processing claims going up by over 100%, there serious questions to be asked there. Why was a digital level of processing around asylum claims that would have taken place at these centres not forthcoming and why did that not materialise?

Migrant accommodation
Dame Priti told MPs the current hotel-based system is ‘obviously not working’ (James Manning/PA Images)

“And that’s only one aspect of what should have been the New Plan for Immigration and implementing these serious measures.

“That would have led to financial transparency but quite frankly accountability around public spending, but also having the deterrent effect of those trying to enter the UK through dangerous and illegal routes.

“Reducing the pull factor by having accommodation – that quite frankly isn’t moving round from one hotel after the other – but processing claims in these centres and having cost effective solutions.”

Dame Priti also echoed the concerns of members on the Home Affairs Select Committee that the Home Office had “zero transparency” with its spending.

She said: “I think it is really important, and I say this because I negotiated the original partnership and I came to the House and at the outset put out the original costings of £120 million, and that partnership was an economic and migration development partnership.

“It’s quite clear that the principle of the Rwanda partnership, currently as it stands, has moved miles away from the original economic and migration development partnership, and I have to say I think that’s deeply concerning.

“There has been zero transparency, as the chair of the select committee has pointed out, what on earth has gone on over the last 12 months around this partnership other than funnelling more public cash into this and to the government of Rwanda?”

Labour MP and chair of the Home Affairs Committee Dame Diana Johnson called for action on the “lack of transparency from the Home Office”, adding: “Parliament is not a rubber stamp for whatever the Home Office wishes it can do, they have to be accountable.”

SNP home affairs spokeswoman Alison Thewliss said the committee has experienced frustration “about the opacity of Home Office spending”.

She told the Commons: “Still in reading the supplementary estimates in front of us it’s very difficult to get right to the bottom of what money has been spent when they come forward for this retrospective approval today.

“Members on the Government benches, current and former Home Office ministers are all prepared to weigh in publicly and call outrage on this spending of the Home Office, but yet trying to get any clarity on how the department utilises its budget has been like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

“I would agree that spending appears to be out of control but it’s the utter incompetence and the abject cruelty at the heart of the Home Office that makes things so much worse.”

She added that the Home Office is “presiding over a chaotic, mean and dangerous system, where those who are unlucky enough to become in its orbit are drawn into a dystopian nightmare”.

Conservative former minister Tim Loughton said that in his 10 years serving on the Home Affairs committee things had “never been worse than it has in terms of our relations with officials in getting information out of them”.

He said: “It has been a labour of love, certainly a long labour of love to try and get relevant information out of Home Office officials, and anything approaching financial figures are always met with a degree of reluctance and opaqueness.”

Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson said: “Taxpayers’ interests must come first and foremost when determining our approach to the asylum and immigration systems.

“And it’s right to say that no-one has done more than this Government in shining a spotlight on the costs, the overall costs and the public money that is being spent, not least every day to house those asylum seekers in hotels.”

In response to Dame Priti, Mr Tomlinson said: “She will, I hope, be reassured that there is progress that is being made, perhaps not as fast as she would like and she will know my impatience on this subject as well.

“We will and we must crack on with that.”