Department proposals to outsource Asylum Interviews to a third-party provider
On 10 September the department wrote to PCS announcing its intention to engage a third-party supplier to complete asylum interviews. In basic terms this amounts to outsourcing a major part of the asylum process to a private supplier.
It’s no secret that there is over 40k outstanding asylum applications to deal with. This is a national disgrace and has left many vulnerable individuals in limbo, suffering with the stress of uncertainty. But despite this, PCS harbours serious concerns about this initiative.
PCS has written to the acting head of Asylum stating our in-principle opposition to the proposal. This is core Civil Service work and we believe that it is unacceptable for a private company to be making money from the process of interviewing and identifying refugees.
Our members in asylum complete some of the hardest and most emotionally draining work across the department. They receive considerable training and have their performance monitored closely. As Civil Servants we are all bound by the Civil Service code with values of integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity. Our priority is serving the public and not serving shareholders. On these grounds alone the work should be kept in-house.
A Chequered History
There is simply is no evidence or reason to believe that a private company would be able to deliver asylum interviews to a higher standard than our own members and staff. In fact, our departmental experience of outsourcing companies has been poor, with Serco in accommodation provision, and G4S at Brook House, and the abuse suffered there. Add in to the mix the various outsourcing shambles during Covid-19 and it is inexplicable that the department would see this as a route to dealing with the backlog of cases.
This is why PCS believes that the idea of outsourcing this work is fundamentally flawed and should be reversed. Of course, even beyond these concerns there are practical issues about the feasibility of this plan.
Lack of information
At this point your union has received only the limited information that members have. Although the company Serco have been heavily hinted at, there remains no information as to who has been brought in. The tendering process remains opaque, despite the trial commencing next month and there is no indication that an internal solution was modelled as an alternative.
We have not been provided with details of how these staff will be recruited, what their pay or terms and conditions will be, what training they will receive and whether they will be fully trained on wider safeguarding, keeping children safe and diversity issues.
Impact on Members
The narrative being developed by the department to support this initiative is that this outsourcing will not impact on staff in the Home Office. However, this is clearly not the case. Our members are already preparing interview plans, which will be used by outsourced staff, our Tech Specs will have to check the interviews for quality, and then Decision Makers use the interviews to write the decisions.
Furthermore, it is unclear whether Admin and Workflow staff will be responsible for inviting applicants in, obtaining interpreters and other administrative support.
But even forgetting this what the narrative fails to take in to account is that our members working in asylum take pride in their work, believe that they are completing an important role in the UK fulfilling its international obligations and its moral duties. We believe that this role is an important one that should be carried out by trained decision makers, bound by the Civil Service Code and our values, not a worker taken on by one of the outsourcing giants with a view to maximising their profits. Let’s not forget that in taking this work from the Home Office a third-party will likely look to squeeze workers’ rights, terms and conditions and importantly, at this time, health and safety protections.
PCS is very concerned that that in outsourcing a fundamental and vital part of the asylum process to a third-party the department are presaging further incursions of the private sector into Home Office work.
If this Government cannot see that getting a private company in to interview asylum seekers is an abhorrent proposal, then the potential to outsource other areas are clearly fair game.
PCS will be opposing these moves and fighting for the alternative - an adequately staffed, properly remunerated and well managed department, sticking to our core values and rooted in public service not private profit.
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