Serco (Business-to-Government Sector)
Verita were commissioned to support Kate Lampard in conducting an independent investigation into the overall culture and practices at Yarl’s Wood and the impact of these on the well-being and welfare of its residents following a series of allegations and concerns that had been raised. It was not an investigation into any individual case or allegation as these were dealt with separately through established Serco and Home Office procedures
For a number of years, the work of Yarl’s Wood had been subject to intense external criticism and scrutiny. In March 2015 a report by Channel 4 News included undercover film of staff making unacceptable and derogatory comments. It is vital that the operation of such an important part of the UK’s immigration system has the confidence of the public and policy-makers. It is also important for Serco and those who work at Yarl’s Wood to have it adjudged whether they are doing a good job in difficult circumstances, or if in fact there are broader problems, as some commentators have suggested.
Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), Bedfordshire, is the main IRC for women and families. It opened in 2001, with Serco operating the contract since April 2007.
The centre holds a maximum of 410 residents, including 304 single women’s spaces, 68 family spaces and 38 male spaces. Rooms in the family unit are twin-bedded and interconnected in pairs to allow families to be located together. Decency and respect is at the centre of Serco’s agenda in looking after residents.
The investigation only looked at matters which are Serco’s responsibility and therefore did not include the healthcare services provided for residents, the transport service that brings residents to and from Yarl’s Wood, nor the handling of residents’ immigration cases. However the investigation looked into issues raised about these matters where they appear to have had implications for the wellbeing and welfare of residents and Serco’s management of Yarl’s Wood.
The investigation team, involving Kate Lampard and Verita managing director Ed Marsden, worked independently and were given full access to Yarl’s Wood. They visited the site 23 times over the course of the investigation, during both planned and unannounced visits.
During this time the investigation team interviewed 146 people including residents, front-line staff, and senior managers, but also those who had shown an interest in the situation at Yarl’s Wood including charity representatives, members of the local community, local Members of Parliament, and the media.
The independent investigation found that there was not an endemic culture of abuse nor a hidden problem of inappropriate behaviour by staff at the immigration removal centre.
The investigation did find serious concerns with staffing arrangements including capacity, training and an inadequate proportion of female officers to care for women at the centre.
The investigation highlighted both the challenges of running Yarl’s Wood and the concerns and experiences of the residents living there whilst their immigration applications are processed. Further specific issues identified by the investigating team as needing improvement, include:
- the physical environment and access to outside space;
- the availability of meaningful activities and education programmes for residents;
- weaknesses in safeguarding arrangements and policies;
- inconsistent policies and underdeveloped practice in relation to raising concerns and whistle blowing;
- the choice and quality of the food available;
- training, development and appraisal of staff.
The report makes recommendations aimed at ensuring greater transparency and openness about Yarl’s Wood, noting how there is a disparity between perceptions and the reality of how the centre is managed and run.
Serco committed to respond to all of 35 of the report’s recommendations and has already agreed, or completed, over 30 of the changes.
Significant changes and improvements already achieved, or being implemented, include:
- An 11% increase in staffing levels compared to the low point in May 2015
- Focus on recruiting more female staff, which is currently at 55%, with eight out of eleven recent recruits being women
- A new Assistant Director who is joining the Centre in February
- A new shift pattern which has increased the staffing profile during the day and night
- A review of recruitment to ensure suitable candidates are selected
- New specialist training for all staff introduced including modules on subjects such as safeguarding, human trafficking and mental health
The removal of the remaining security wire at the centre this month and improvements to the outdoor sports area.
- Introduction of new menus designed with a greater focus on nutrition and a better balanced diet
- Introduction of body cameras for all front-line staff
- Introduction of multi-lingual self-service electronic kiosks for residents and biometric fingerprint recognition technology
Rachel Lomax, Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Board’s Corporate Responsibility and Risk Committee, said: “I welcome the findings of the Investigation and I would like to thank Ms Lampard and her team for their detailed and comprehensive work. I believe that the recommendations she has made, nearly all of which we will be implementing, should significantly improve the operations of Yarl’s Wood.”
Rupert Soames, Chief Executive of Serco, said: “The recommendations of the Investigation will enable us to deliver a number of operational improvements, and we are already implementing many of them.