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Bibby Stockholm barge costs taxpayers £22m amid calls for asylum seekers to be rehomed following death

Bibby Stockholm barge costs taxpayers £22m amid calls for asylum seekers to be rehomed following death

More than £22 million has been spent on accommodation for asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge so far, the Home Office’s top official revealed on Wednesday.

The "eye-watering" cost has been confirmed a day after a man was found dead on the vessel moored in Portland Port, Dorset, prompting calls for migrants to be moved off.

The barge has capacity for 500 people but fewer than half that number are currently housed there.

Home Secretary James Cleverly has promised an investigation into the death.

In a letter to MPs, Home Office permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft said the "vessel accommodation services" portion of the contract, which relates to the barge, was £22,450,772.

He added that an assessment of whether it offered value for money, and the latest "per person per night" costs, were "currently being updated”.

The amount was set out in a letter to the Home Affairs Committee’s chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson, and relates only to the contract for CTM to provide "bridging accommodation and travel services".

The £22,450,772 figure was contained in a variation to the contract with CTM – worth almost £1.6 billion over two years – to provide hotels and travel for asylum seekers.

As well as the payment to CTM for providing accommodation services on Bibby Stockholm, the Government is also paying Dorset Council £3,500 per occupied bed on the vessel.

The council has also received almost £380,000 in a one-off grant to help support local charity and voluntary organisations provide services on board.

But immigration delivery minister Tom Pursglove argued it was "undoubtedly" cheaper than housing asylum seekers in hotels.

Dame Diana said she was "just flabbergasted that a value-for-money assessment was not carried out at the time that the contract was let".

Residents lay flowers in memory of the asylum seeker who died on the vessel (Getty Images)
Residents lay flowers in memory of the asylum seeker who died on the vessel (Getty Images)

Mr Pursglove told her it was being "updated" and added: "This is undoubtedly a more cost-effective way of providing accommodation."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Today’s admissions from the Home Office show the truly appalling scale of Tory failure and chaos, including a disastrously low level of enforcement in the asylum system."

She said the £22 million cost for Bibby Stockholm was an “eyewatering” figure.

“We can’t continue with this damaging and costly chaos,” Ms Cooper said.

Sir Matthew’s letter to the committee also showed that, since 2020, just 1,182 people who arrived on small boats across the Channel had been returned to their home country out of a total of more than 111,800 who have arrived in that time period.

The majority of those were Albanian – a country with which the UK has a returns agreement – and there were only 420 who were sent back to other countries.

Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson asked: “Is that an acceptable figure?”

Illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson told him: “I want to see those figures as high as possible … as far as I’m concerned the numbers need to be significantly higher than they are.”

Mr Pursglove also told MPs he was “confident” the Home Office would meet Rishi Sunak’s target to clear the backlog of so-called “legacy” asylum cases – applications made before June 28 2022 – by the end of the year.

“I believe we will fulfil it and I also believe we will see these grant rates come down”, he said.

The death of an asylum seeker on board the Bibby Stockholm will be investigated, Home Secretary James Cleverly has said (PA Wire)
The death of an asylum seeker on board the Bibby Stockholm will be investigated, Home Secretary James Cleverly has said (PA Wire)

The Bibby Stockholm, along with former military bases, began being used to house small numbers of migrants in August after the Government's hotel bills topped £8 million each day, earlier this year.

The first group of 15 asylum seekers boarded the barge on August 7, but were evacuated just days later following the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

Following the death on Tuesday, South Dorset MP Richard Drax described the incident as a "tragedy born of an impossible situation" and said he had been told by Government officials that the man was believed to have taken his own life.

Video footage appeared to show a body being removed from the barge on Tuesday afternoon. The age and nationality of the man and further details of the incident are yet to be confirmed

The mayor of Portland, Carralyn Parkes, said asylum seekers described the conditions on Bibby Stockholm as “appalling” with airport-style security, tight space, bad food and fear of reprisals if they were to speak out.

She added: “I think we should desist using things like the Bibby Stockholm as a place to accommodate human beings. It’s totally unsuitable, it’s not fit for purpose.”

Steve Smith, the chief executive of Care4Calais, called on the Government to “take responsibility for this human tragedy”, adding: “They have wilfully ignored the trauma they are inflicting on people who are sent to the Bibby Stockholm, and the hundreds being accommodated in former military barracks.”

Charity Freedom from Torture said the incident was “another reminder that the Government’s punitive anti-refugee policies are not only cruel but they cost lives”, adding: “It’s time this Government ends the use of barges and barracks as asylum accommodation once and for all.”

Amnesty International UK said it was “time for the UK to drastically change course on asylum” and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK) repeated calls for the barge to close.