Published: 05:00, 16 January 2022
A contractor operating controversial asylum accommodation at Napier Barracks has seen its profits surge after securing Home Office contracts worth £1 billion.
Clearsprings Ready Homes, which manages the barracks in Folkestone as well as other housing across the country, saw profit jump from around £800,000 in 2020 to almost £4.5 million the following year.
According to the firm's latest accounts filed at Companies House, the large increase was reflected in the dividend paid to its holding company, Clearsprings Management, which leapt from £1m to £7m.
Despite the huge sums being generated for Clearsprings, and the three directors behind the holding company, conditions at Napier Barracks have been condemned by parliamentarians and charities working with refugees.
In a report published last month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention (APPG) found evidence of what it describes as "appalling treatment and conditions" at the former army camp.
Although the Home Office insists individuals are not detained at Napier, the APPG says conditions there – including visible security measures, surveillance, lack of privacy and poor access to healthcare, legal advice and means of communication – make it akin to "quasi-detention".
Bridget Chapman, from Kent Refugee Action Network, said: "When we are handing over huge sums of public money to an organisation that has repeatedly failed to provide adequate housing for vulnerable people then something has gone very badly wrong.
"The massive sums of public money hoovered up by Clearsprings should be enough to pay for decent housing for many, many people and yet so much money is siphoned off into the pockets of those at the top that we are left in the appalling situation where both the British public and asylum seekers are being ripped off.
"We should all be very angry about that. Rather than pointing at refugees, those angry about a drain on public funding should take a long hard look at the profiteers who are taking us all for a ride."
In March, pictures released by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) showed what were described as "inadequate" and "impoverished" living conditions at the barracks.
A photograph of one part of the facility – described as an isolation room – showed damaged brickwork and peeling paint and was described as "unfit for habitation" by the ICIBI.
Stuart McDonald MP, the Scottish National Party spokesman on immigration, asylum and border control, has been an outspoken critic of the services provided by Clearsprings across the country.
"Report after report has highlighted failings in the system of outsourced asylum accommodation," he said.
"Napier has been an absolute disaster, but under these contracts dispersed asylum accommodation has too often also not been delivered to a decent standard, right across the UK.
"Contractors are incentivised simply to put people in the cheapest accommodation they can find, regardless of whether local authorities object, regardless of whether that is appropriate for the person seeking refuge, and regardless of whether that is right for the community where they are placed.
"And while the private contractors now seem to be paying out millions in dividends, local authorities do not get a penny towards costs of discharging their very important role in supporting people."
Clearsprings declined to comment on the increase in profits and dividend paid to the holding company, except to say: "No dividends were paid to directors. The dividend was paid to the holding company."
Responding to concerns about conditions at other properties in its asylum accommodation portfolio, separate to Napier Barracks, the company told the Guardian newspaper: "Clearsprings Ready Homes works closely with its delivery partners to ensure that safe, habitable and correctly equipped accommodation is provided.
"Whenever issues are raised, or defects are identified, Ready Homes will undertake a full investigation and ensure that those issues are addressed."
Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins also declined our request for comment on the profits being generated from asylum accommodation contracts.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We are dealing with unprecedented pressures on the asylum system, but despite this we continue to ensure the accommodation provided is safe, comfortable and secure – it is wrong to say that they are unfit for purpose."
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