19 August 2021

Using private contractors to help with small boat arrivals on the south coast

Our position on the use of private contractors to supplement staffing numbers dealing with small boat arrivals.

The pressures on staff who are assisting on the south coast (both on a compelled and a voluntary basis) have steadily increased, as small boat arrivals have also increased going into the summer. PCS is concerned at the long hours and poor working conditions for staff, as well as the poor conditions small boat migrant arrivals have been placed in. With over 500 arrivals in one day, PCS has made it clear that the situation cannot continue as it is. We informed senior IE management that our view was not only must all non essential ‘minimum viable product’ staff be made available to assist with arrivals, but detainee accommodation on the south coast must be improved and availability extended, and staff working conditions and hours restricted wherever possible.

Use of Private Contractors

We were informed in mid July that proposals were being drawn up for the use of private contractors on the south coast, to supplement existing substantive staff. PCS immediately voiced our concerns at their use, and at the inability of the business to properly resource the south coast small boats arrivals. However we also have concerns for staff welfare and the existing situation is clearly untenable. We queried the role of the contractors, since private contractors should not undertake work that should be conducted by substantive staff. We were informed that the contractors would just be used for guarding and escorting duties and would be PST3 or equivalent trained. The initial proposal was for their contracts to end in September 2021.

Events move at pace

Due to the urgency of the staffing requirements on the south coast ( where a 5 day critical incident took place ), it seems that decisions were made at pace, without the usual further consultation having taken place. The private contractors, Interforce, were due to start at the beginning of August. The competitive tendering had taken place extremely quickly due to the growing demands and the length of their contract is set as November 2021.

When Interforce staff wearing body armour and body-worn video cameras arrived on the south coast, many staff voiced concerns about the longer term usage of private contractors and if this might have an impact on their jobs.

Assurances sought by PCS

PCS has sought assurances from the Home Office on the following issues:

  • That the contracts given to Interforce will end in November 2021, and not be extended

We have received assurances that the use of Interforce is a short term measure, and that their contracts will end in November 2021.

  • That Interforce will not carry out any work beyond guarding and escorting

The Home Office detailed the scope of the use of Interforce staff, limited as it was to guarding and escorting. They say that the use of Interforce allows the Department to relieve the increasing pressure placed on substantive staff, and this gives them the resources to be able to deploy substantive staff more effectively.

  • That their presence on the south coast and their work will be regularly reviewed

PCS was informed that there would be regular informal reviews of Interforce, as well as a proposed formal review in September and at the end of their deployment. Furthermore there were agreed key performance indicators for Interforce to meet.

  • That the shifts worked by substantive staff assisting on the south coast will not go over the 12-hour maximum shift lengths as detailed in AHW terms and conditions.

PCS did receive confirmation that the staggered daily presence of Interforce is expected to allow IE to respect the 12-hour AHW shift length maximum, as well as allow a more even spread of shifts throughout the day, thus releasing some of the pressure from substantive staff.

  • The cost of employing Interforce during this period of time.

We were told that Interforce was being provided at the cost of £20 per officer per hour.

  • Assurances that all available operational resources were being deployed to the south coast to address the potential humanitarian issues there

Whilst the Home Office was prepared to confirm that the use of Interforce would enable more efficient and reasonable use of substantive staff, we have yet to receive substantive assurances that all available resources were being either requested or required to deploy to the south coast

  • What the CTC perceived to be the longer term solutions to this issue

This question has been met with a variety of responses, involving legislation changes and international agreements, but the responses are low on detail, leading to real doubt that a long term solution to these issues is anywhere close to being provided. We were told that ‘creative thinking’ must be used to deal with this crisis. Our preference is to see adequate operational resources being made available and deployed in an area that we consider to be an ongoing humanitarian crisis evolving on our coastline.

Conclusion and advice

The use of Interforce presents PCS with a dilemma. We oppose the use of outsourced companies to undertake any work that might normally be undertaken by substantive Home Office staff, but we have also had real concerns at the impact the number of small boats arrivals has had on the wellbeing of the Home Office staff dealing with them. We will be looking to ensure that the limited contracts of Interforce are adhered to, and more importantly that a longer term staffing solution is reached that does not require the outsourcing of functions to any private companies. PCS will keep members updated, and we welcome members’ feedback on the use of Interforce and on any other work-related issues affecting members deployed there.