Its announcement in July that it would evict asylum seekers in Glasgow by simply changing the locks on their doors without going through due legal process triggered a wave of protests. For the time being at least Serco has backed down.
Not least amongst those who raised their voices in righteous anger were Glasgow City Council officials and members of the ruling SNP Group. Media reports referred to “distraught council officials” who complained that “they had been given no meaningful warning” by Serco. SNP councillor Jennifer Layden, the Council’s equality and human rights spokesperson, said that the Council had been “completely blindsided” and that Serco had failed to carry out “proper consultation or engagement”.
Layden and SNP Council leader Susan Aitken, along with local Labour and Green politicians, signed a “strongly worded” letter to the Home Office demanding that it instruct Serco to end its policy of eviction through lock changes. But now it turns out, largely due to Freedom of Information requests, that the City Council and Serco had in fact reached agreement on evicting asylum seekers through lock changes.
A “Move On Protocol (Negative Households)”, which has the Serco and Glasgow City Council logos on its front page, specifies the use of lock changes to evict asylum seekers. Two template letters included as appendices likewise specify the use of lock changes. E-mail exchanges dating as far back as April also reveal that officials and councillors were aware of the plans to introduce a policy of lock changes.
A Serco e-mail from April, for example, states: “It (the meeting) was useful to get a sense of the general consensus in terms of action around negative cases. … I would like Serco to take some proactive steps in plotting lock change notices (prior to the next meeting). ”Another Serco e-mail, dated 29th June, reports: “The meeting with Jen Layden went well earlier this week, and politically she understands the need for Serco to explore lock changes for negative cases – she has agreed to assist in managing some of the political messaging on that if required. ”A Serco e-mail sent to Layden on 19th July states: “It is likely we will begin this piece of work (i. e. implementing lock changes) week commencing 30th July, and ahead of then we will be issuing communications to key stakeholders.”
Layden now claims that she promised no help in “political messaging” and that she did not read the e-mail of 19th July as she was on holiday. But, at a minimum, the “Move on Protocol” and e-mail exchange are fatal to claims that the council had been “completely blindsided”. Green councillor Kim Long has demanded an investigation by the Council Scrutiny Committee into the events leading up to Serco’s announcement of its lock change policy, and also the release of all relevant minutes of meetings by the Director of Health and Social Care. Motions about asylum seekers have been tabled for this week’s council meeting by the SNP (more money and powers for the City Council) and the Greens (joint council-voluntary sector provision of emergency accommodation for asylum seekers). But where is Glasgow Labour Group in all of this?
There is no sign of any attempt to track down internal e-mails or minutes of meetings. And no statements about the cover-up, nor a motion on asylum seekers for the Council meeting. And this in spite of the fact that it was successive Blair Labour governments which pioneered a “hostile environment” and created a separate “support” system for asylum seekers.
The Tories subsequently privatised that system. But the system itself was created by Labour. Instead of consoling itself with fantasies that there are about to be mass desertions from the SNP Group – there won’t be – the Labour Group should be exposing SNP mendacity and taking the lead in defending asylum seekers' rights.