Priti writes to Home Secretary on Wethersfield
Priti recently wrote to the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister regarding a number of unanswered questions over their plans for a large scale asylum accomodation centre at Wethersfield in the Braintree district.
Local service providers are frustrated by the lack of clear information coming from the Home Office about the support that will be provided to both the local community, and local statutory service providers.
The letter, copied in full below, follows up on Priti’s question the Immigration Minister during Home Office Oral Questions in Parliament on Monday 22nd May, where she called on the Government to scrap these plans.
Dear Suella and Robert,
Re: MOD Wethersfield
Local authorities, statutory services providers and I continue to have serious concerns regarding the plans to use Wethersfield as an asylum reception centre. My constituents and those in neighbouring areas have not received sufficient assurances to address their concerns with the plans and our local authorities and statutory service providers remain unclear about the pressures that they will face and the levels of funding they will be supported with.
While the engagement from officials has been welcome alongside the meeting held at the Home Office on 13 April 2023, the information my fellow MPs and I have received is sometimes contradictory and can change, while the correspondence and questions I have raised have not been fully or satisfactorily answered. There continues to be a lack of information, certainty and clarity over the cohorts of asylum seekers who will be accommodated, the funding available to local authorities and statutory partners, and therefore the management of those who will be accommodated on the site.
Last week, at a briefing with officials on 17 May 2023, my office and representatives from James Cleverly and Kemi Badenoch’s offices were informed that you had agreed that asylum seekers being housed on the site would be coming direct from Manston after the basic initial screenings for security and health take place. This contradicts with the information previously provided to us and to other stakeholders that the cohorts of asylum seekers being housed there would come from those already accommodated through hotels and possibly in HMOs, be progressing on their asylum journey and likely to be granted approval to remain, and was claimed that they would be less likely to present challenges and risks as it was in their interests to display good behaviour.
It was also previously discussed that the Home Office could look to take those asylum seekers from existing local and regional sites so that those sites could be decanted. However, the decision to place asylum seekers directly from Manston, who may have only been in the UK for a matter of hours, changes the cohort that would come to Wethersfield, including their risk assessments and their health and other needs.
Moreover, the legislative changes in the Illegal Migration Bill would mean that those coming from Manston will also pose a greater risk of absconding given the new laws being introduced on their ability and rights to claim asylum. Essex County Council has commented on this and asked you the questions as follows: By the Government’s new definition in the Bill, everyone arriving at Wethersfield would, be classed as an illegal immigrant and not a person seeking asylum. This has significant implications for site security, turnover, communications, local costs, and the emotional and mental health of those arriving (and therefore the need for support services). How will the Home Office guarantee that they will ensure clear communication on the plan for if this happens, and ensure that local disruption is minimised?
When I asked about this change in the House of Commons at Home Office Questions today, I did not get a response or a direct answer; and I would therefore welcome receiving a detailed response to these queries.
So far, my office and others have been given assurances that Wethersfield would not have detention facilities. However, this change may mean that detention facilities may be required after all; and the commitment that the Home Office has given to allow those on the site to come and go as they please will need reviewing. This may also change the maximum number of days those being accommodated on the site would be there for to beyond the 180 day limit published and stated by the Home Office.
Can you therefore clarify why the decision was taken to allow cohorts to come direct from Manston to Wethersfield, what assessment was undertaken of the impact of this change, and what additional measures will be needed at Wethersfield. I would also welcome clarity on whether the Home Office will continue to place asylum seekers accommodated in hotels on the site alongside those who have come directly from Manston. Moreover, as you will know, there are seven hotels in Essex accommodating asylum seekers. Essex County council have therefore asked if the Home Office can confirm that the asylum seekers in those facilities will be moved to Wethersfield or elsewhere, to avoid compounding pressures on an already-stretched county.
It would be helpful for you to let me know what the pathways are for those who will be accommodated at Wethersfield and where they will be dispersed to. I was previously informed that they would be dispersed before a decision on their asylum claim was made. Can you confirm if this will still be the case and what the dispersal arrangements and model will be. As you will appreciate, local authorities in the area, including those with considerable housing pressures, are concerned about the risks of large numbers of asylum seekers and young men presenting themselves as homeless and in need of housing and able to claim a local connection.
With regard to the costs and funding being provided to local authorities and statutory service providers, local authorities have been informed that £3,500 will be made available per bed space. Therefore, once the site is at its 1704 capacity, £5,964,000 could be made available. However, there continues to be uncertainty over how this amount will be split between local authorities and any other organisations. It is also unclear as to whether this funding will be renewed annually or is a one-off. If it is a one-off to cover the approximately three years that I have been informed that the site could be used for, then this presents challenges for local authorities in how they account for the money and, importantly, how they plan to spend it.
I would welcome clarity on this point as well as assurances that the level of funding will be kept under review as the local authorities may require more resources. Indeed, Essex County Council have stated: Local partners have been told they are receiving £3,500 per bed space. However, with the level of turnover, and length of time the facility could be open, this is likely to be inadequate and lead to difficulties. They have therefore asked if the Home Office can guarantee increased funding for local partners, and agree that this will be commensurate to their costs, per person or per year, to enable them to plan appropriately?
I look forward to your responses, trust you can provide a detailed and comprehensive responses, and would welcome meeting with you both shortly to discuss this.
Rt Hon Priti Patel MP
Member of Parliament for Witham