What is the Home Office concealing and why?

While Windrush victims are paid ludicrously small amounts of compensation – typically £200 to a woman who was denied the ability to attend her mother’s funeral – the same Home Office appears to be paying out undisclosed sums to a private company to handle the PR on its latest deportation flight to Jamaica.

By Windrush Lives

A couple of days ago, we got hold of this Deportation and Charter Flights Factsheet, dated Thursday 26th November. It concerns the planned removals of the #Jamaica50 scheduled for next Wednesday, 2nd December. It’s not on the Home Office’s website.

We immediately contacted the Home Office to establish if it was legitimate. They told us the document “did come from the Home Office”, but “hasn’t been uploaded to gov.uk yet”, and was “provided to a number of stakeholders” following requests for information on the planned deportations.

It struck us as odd that a document of clear public interest, setting out the Home Office’s position on a wildly controversial matter, and providing a few mildly exonerating tidbits at that, wouldn’t be made publicly available. (As of publication, there are two working days left to the deportation deadline.)

We then heard that this company was responsible for distributing this document to those “stakeholders”.

We tweeted them, and didn’t hear back. So we went looking elsewhere, specifically to the Public Contracts Regulations 2015/102.

By Schedule 1, par 1 of those regulations, the Home Office is a Central Government Authority. That means that by the government’s own guidance, it has to publish certain details of contracts above £10,000 in value, such as the name of the supplier.

There are some exceptions, as seen is the second image above. They can’t possibly apply here.

Post-February 2015, contracts are published on Contracts Finder. We searched for every contract on that database with “home office” in it. There were 2,400 results. Handily, these can be downloaded as CSVs and reformatted into Excel spreadsheets.

We started off by searching for @MulticulturalMC, using the phrase “MMC”. There were no results. So, on the assumption that perhaps the company wasn’t involved, we expanded the parameters a little, and ended up searching all these terms.

There were no relevant hits for any of those search phrases, which were deliberately broad to capture not just the name of that company, but any mention of management, consulting or advisory work, of any kind.

One of four things is possible: (A) a scope of work including distributing targeted factsheets to stakeholders was described in some way excluding those terms; (B) it wasn’t outsourced at all; (C) the contract is for less than £10,000; or (D) the contract hasn’t been published.

We’re ruling out (A) for basic sanity purposes – the CSV table includes a substantive description of each tender, and we haven’t a clue how work that comprises distributing a factsheet – at a minimum – could fail to use any of the searched word stubs.

As to (B), with respect to the most minimal of the Home Office’s obligations on transparency, it doesn’t matter a jot whether this was outsourced or not. The point is that it isn’t publicly available, so can’t be scrutinised.

Remember this comes from an organisation that

1. arranged deportations to Jamaica (cf Feb 2020) in the middle of a pandemic, where some detainees will not have had any family contact before deportation, on unknown legal grounds;

2.  had a whistleblower – a senior ex-official, Alex Ankrah, expose jaw-dropping racism within its ranks that conclusively disqualifies it from having control of anything intended to “right the wrongs” committed upon Windrushers;

3. had its head, Priti Patel, pretty deafeningly un-exonerated of a campaign of bullying so toxic that a mandarin on a £190,000 salary is pursuing an Employment Tribunal action that won’t net anywhere near that, instead of taking a settlement out of rage/spite;

4. has been found to have broken its statutory duty under s 149 of the Equality Act 2010 in its handling of Black Windrushers and their descendants.

We’ve since been told that the document was created by the Windrush Cross-Government Working Group to prevent the spread of misinformation, by a member of that group. So theory (B) – that this isn’t a piece of outsourced work – is certainly possible.

We were surprised to be told this. Here are the stated purposes of the Windrush Cross-Government Working Group (CGWG). You will note the singular absence of a line item on carrying out the Home Office’s media enquiries work on deportations.

Aside from the fact that the CGWG exists to *support Windrush victims*, and not to do the Home Office’s work on explaining itself (which obligation is anyway to the entire general public, not just Windrush victims), the Terms Of Reference for the CGWG say this:

That, plus the assertion that the CGWG did this to prevent the spread of misinformation, stuck in our collective craw. There have been multiple accounts of detainees being denied meaningful access to their solicitors, contrary to what this document says.

Here is one among many. Don’t just take it from us: Holly Lynch MP has written to the Minister for Immigration, specifically citing a report that at least one detainee is a Windrush descendant.

The “factsheet” is pretty adamant that there is no Windrush overlap. Wouldn’t it save our parliamentarians a lot of bother if this information was out in public for everyone to peruse, and not being selectively distributed by the CGWG to Windrushers?

This is targeted propaganda. The CGWG – funded and appointed to protect the best interests of Windrush victims, because successive governments hung them out to dry – is instead sending them very much disputed “facts” on deportations. We invite comment from the Home Office.

Back to the four propositions set earlier. Keeping all assumptions open – because none of them imply good things – if (C), this was outsourced, contrary to the proclamation of the CGWG member, and the contract was worth less than £10,000, it doesn’t have to be published. 

We have no idea how much this type of service goes for, so we simply have to leave that open, i.e. it is possible that the production and/or distribution of this document was outsourced, under a non-disclosable contract, which would be above board, if morally repugnant.

That doesn’t change the fact that it has been selectively distributed rather than openly published for all, including our parliamentarians, to scrutinise. This is by far the least damaging version of this debacle, and it implies the Home Office is withholding a factsheet on deportations in four days from the general public.

Which leaves (D): some or all of this has been outsourced (contrary to the claim of the CGWG member), under a contract worth more than £10,000 – and it hasn’t been published, as required by law.

We should note that the CGWG member says they do not know anything about a “distribution contract”. (We didn’t ask them anything about a distribution contract – in fact, we didn’t ask them anything at all.)

Not much is known at present about how the £500,000 assigned for Windrush “community engagement” has been disbursed. Options A, B and D do not bode well – this is the Home Office learning from its mistakes, “righting the wrongs”, doing its best to serve a demographic it has abused.

But, it could be the best-case scenario, we guess. That’s the one where the government is withholding from the general public a factsheet on deportations and charter flights four days before those deportations will take place… for no apparent reason.

We’ve said our piece on why these deportations cannot proceed without much more scrutiny, at the absolute minimum. Can you blame us for wanting the Home Office to show every scrap of its workings?

We’ve asked the Home Office to confirm if there are more of these ‘factsheets’. If there are, we would like to see them.

NB: Please follow @BARACUK @sdetsup @followMFJ @DetentionAction and @BIDdetention on Twitter for more on the unravelling #Jamaica50 deportation crisis. And listen to this account from a woman whose partner is supposed to be on that flight.

Primary Source [1]: Public Contracts Regulations 2015

Primary Source [2]: Government guidance on data transparency

Primary Source [3]: Contracts Finder

Primary Source [4]: This is the company to which some part of this work has allegedly been outsourced – Multicultural Marketing Consultancy Ltd

Windrush Lives is a small, independent advocacy group, with an associated network of Windrush victims. We are lobbying for the Windrush Compensation Scheme to be removed from the control of the Home Office and handed to an independent external organisation. We can be found on Twitter @WindrushLives or reached by email on windrushlives@gmail.com

Image: Home Office Immigration Enforcement vehicle. Author: Philafrenzy,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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