The UK Home Office “faces delivery and coordination challenges” when it relies on others to deliver public services, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
A departmental overview by the NAO said the Home Office spends around £3bn each year on goods and services, but it had identified examples of “poor management of its contractors”.
The NAO said there had been weaknesses in the department’s identification and management of risks and accused the department of extending troubled contracts past the point at which they should have ended.
One of the contracts highlighted by the NAO was awarded to G4S to run Brook House immigration removal centre (IRC) in 2009. The contract had been met with controversy after a BBC Panorama investigation in 2017 claimed there had been systematic abuse of detainees at the facility.
An NAO report into the department’s management of the contract, published in July 2019, found the contract was due to end in May 2018 but was extended until May 2020. This was despite the Home Office admitting “the Brook House contract did not provide it with the levers it needs to manage performance”.
“We concluded that the inability of the department to impose any significant financial consequences for the abuse of detainees highlights limitations in the contractual approach,” the NAO said at the time.
The NAO’s latest report comes as the Home Office announced it awarded a £200m contract to manage Brook House and Tinsley House IRCs to Serco.
The department said the contract included improved performance monitoring to ensure detainees’ health and welfare were prioritised.
“Financial penalties will be considered if there are any dips in performance standards,” it added.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “This contract is a major step forward in our programme of immigration detention reform. It will significantly improve the day-to-day lives of detainees and the staff who support them.”
Under the eight-year contract, Serco said it would be responsible for “all aspects of detainee safety, security and welfare provision”.
The firm added it will be recruiting 170 additional employees, increasing overall staffing levels to approximately 580.
Rupert Soames, Serco’s chief executive, said: “We know that staff and managers at Gatwick IRC have worked hard to achieve improvements in recent years and we look forward to working with them to build upon this further.
“The Home Office has made a significant investment in the design and resourcing of the new contract, and we are committed to ensuring that there is a healthy, decent environment in the centres for all residents and employees.”
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