Durham University maintains links with new immigration removal centre

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Durham University will maintain its relationship with the controversial Mitie firm, despite the company being contracted to run the Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre in County Durham. 

The University currently maintains a facility management contract with Mitie FM Ltd, which was renewed in 2018. Under this agreement, the firm provides security and estate services to University buildings. 

A spokesperson for the University told Palatinate that the contract was awarded “following a rigorous, transparent and competitive procurement process”. They also emphasised that Durham University’s contract is with Mitie FM Ltd, not Mitie Care and Custody which will be responsible for managing the Immigration Removal Centre in Medomsley, near Consett. 

But research by Palatinate showed that Mitie Group PLC owns the majority of shares in both Mitie FM Ltd and Mitie Care and Custody, and that the board of directors for both firms has significant overlap. Both firms also share an address. 

Mary Foy, MP for City of Durham, told Palatinate she would discuss the University’s arrangement with Mitie at the start of the new academic year with incoming Vice-Chancellor, Karen O’Brien. After over 1,300 Durham students signed an open letter opposing the centre, Foy wrote to the Home Secretary in April to object to the plans, saying she was “disgusted”. Durham County Council are now said also to oppose the centre.

Holding up to 85 women seeking asylum, the centre is a redevelopment of the former Medomsley detention centre, which closed in 1988, and was the site of mass sexual and physical abuse of boys during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Mitie Group PLC have advertised several job opportunities at the site, including Detention Custody Officers. These listings are hosted on the same profile as vacancies for Security Officers and Covid Marshalls at Durham University.

The contract has sparked controversy among some members of the University community. A petition launched by Durham Staff and Students Against Detention to cut its ties to the Mitie Group has gained around 100 signatures. The petition expresses concern over the rights of those working for Mitie, claiming that Mitie staff are employed precariously and paid the minimum wage. The petition also alleges that Mitie has a reputation for “racism and poor treatment of staff” and accuses the group of profiting from the Home Office’s strict immigration policies. 

A spokesperson for the Durham branch of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) has also criticised the University’s continued outsourcing of facilities management to Mitie, echoing the petition’s concerns about the immigration centre and staff pay. The Union also alleged that low wages paid to Mitie security staff during the pandemic led to several staff members working at Durham University resorting to using food banks and that University leadership have “refused” to discuss bringing security staff back into direct University employment. 

A spokesperson for the University told Palatinate: “We awarded a new facility management contract with Mitie in 2018, following a rigorous, transparent and competitive procurement process. Representation from the student body was included, and consideration of our corporate, social and environmental responsibilities and equality and diversity commitments. 

“We are aware of the concerns of some staff and student members about the Hassockfield centre and will ensure that relevant bodies are made aware of these concerns.”

Image: Colin Edgar via Wikimedia Commons

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