By Sophie Gregory
The University continues to face pressure regarding its relationship with outsourcing giant Mitie Group plc, as a new open letter to the Vice-Chancellor will urge Durham University not to renew its contract with the firm.
Mitie, a FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing company, has a contract worth £5 million with Durham University that is approaching time for renewal. As reported last year, as well as providing facilities management services, the company is also the largest single private sector provider of immigration detention centres in the UK.
These facilities have repeatedly come under fire for their inadequacy.
In September BBC News reported that a Polish man detained at Harmondsworth, near Heathrow Airport, died in hospital four days after trying to take his own life at the Mitie-controlled immigration centre.
Reports have also highlighted overcrowding, poor sanitation, hunger strikes and lax fire safety procedure in the detention centres, while official Home Office figures state detainees are being used for cleaning and maintenance tasks. For these tasks they are paid £1 per hour.
The Undoing Borders Campaign, run by People and Planet, claims the new contract Durham University are looking to sign would be significantly expanded to include the porters and ground maintenance at new colleges.
Companies interested in the contract have already started to bid but as yet, it is uncertain who these companies are.
In response to People and Planet’s original letter in May, Stuart Corbridge, Vice Chancellor, stated: “On the specific subject of our contract with MITIE, we will be reletting this contract in anticipation of its expiration via a competitive process in the near future. We will be asking all bidders to confirm their compliance with our CSER policies, including that related to the Modern Slavery Act.”
The Vice-Chancellor also stated in his reply: “Having consulted with our in-house legal counsel, we can confirm that we have no grounds to terminate the current contract with Mitie; however, we have arranged a meeting with company representatives to discuss the matters raised in your open letter.”
People and Planet have since written a new open letter addressed to Pro-Vice Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) Owen Adams, urging Durham to take action against Mitie. In the letter, the campaigners state: “We feel that it is clear that Mitie Group PLC is not a socially responsible company and, further, has extremely worrying negative social impacts.
“It has been criticised for human rights abuses in the operation of its immigration detention centres. For example, a report by the Independent Monitoring Board into its centre in Harmondsworth documented that detention had a negative impact on detainees’ welfare and people who had been deemed unfit to be detained had not been released.
“A report in 2015 into Campsfield detention centre found that a child was detained ‘by mistake’ for 62 days, even though they were below the age at which children can be legally detained.”
The letter calls for the University to: “Commit not to sign any further contracts with Mitie Group PLC whilst it continues to commit human rights abuses and treat detainees inhumanely.
“To the greatest extent permitted by the Public Contracts Regulations, to update the University’s procurement policy to exclude any bidder which is guilty of sociallydamaging practices, in particular the institutionalised mistreatment, subjugation and exploitation of vulnerable people.”
It is to be signed by People and Planet, Durham for Refugees, Durham Young Greens, Durham Left Activists, Enactus, Durham Labour, Durham University Amnesty International, DUCK, Durham People of Colour and St Cuthbert’s Boat Club.
Bethany Holden, the coordinator for the Undoing Borders campaign, told Palatinate: “I’m very disappointed that the University seems to be doing little in response to our concerns that Mitie has violated human rights.
“We feel that as an institution that prides itself on making a positive contribution to society, it should be ensuring that it protects the most vulnerable members and that it causes no harm, whether directly or indirectly.
“Moreover, the lack of transparency in the process is worrying as it shows the University is not accountable to students and is not responding to our concerns. We plan to continue campaigning by mobilising student and staff support, particularly through a petition and JCR motions.”
People and Planet’s campaign last year made significant strides in passing motions within JCRs expressing opposition to the extension of the University’s contract with Mitie. These include Grey, Josephine Butler, St. Chad’s, St. Mary’s and St. Cuthbert’s.
On Friday the 15th of June, Durham SU passed a motion “to publicly oppose and lobby against the University to ban future contracts with Mitie Group plc and similar companies operating detention centres”.
The campaign has an SU petition running at: www.tinyurl. com/StopItMitie.
Photograph: Durham University