Government squandered 29million on a giant asylum centre which was never built
By Matthew Hickley
Last updated at 1:44 AM on 12th June 2008
In one of its most embarrassing fiascos, the Home Office squandered 29million of taxpayers' money on a giant asylum centre which was never built.
A scathing report from MPs exposes a catalogue of costly blunders and lambasts the failing department for a 'startling absence of common sense'.
Seven years after officials started working on the ambitious plans to house thousands of asylum seekers on a former RAF station at Bicester, Oxfordshire, the site remains empty and derelict with 'no benefit' to the taxpayer.
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett announced the scheme in 2001, as part of a strategy to house asylum applicants in huge centres across the country.
Thousands were to be placed in the first centre outside Bicester.
It was not to be secure and the immigrants would be free to come and go as they pleased.
The plans brought a storm of protests, not only from local residents but also from refugee support groups who claimed leaving so many asylum seekers to languish far from any local community would be disastrous.
Planning inspectors rejected the plans, but John Prescott overturned the decision.
Finally ministers realised in 2005 that the centre was unnecessary and unworkable, partly due to a decline in the number of asylum seekers.
By this time vast sums had been paid to consultants and contractors, and when ministers pulled the plug they handed over millions more in cancellation fees.
The Public Accounts Committee report reveals that private contractors Global Solutions Ltd were paid 7.6million for design work, and claimed almost 8million in termination fees.
The Home Office hired a financial adviser at a cost of 15,743 per month, and a procurement adviser who was paid 15,559 per month, because no civil servants were judged to have the right expertise.
The pair, who have not been named, were paid more than 1.1million for less than three years' work, on top of 6.3million paid out to consultants.
MPs complained that the Home Office was unable to show whether the highly paid consultants 'added value'.
Committee chairman Edward Leigh said the scheme was 'always going to provoke opposition in the community' but the Home Office took no account of that, or of objections from refugee groups, and made no effort to make contact with local interest groups or MPs to discuss objections.
He said the project 'embodied lack of foresight, poor business planning and a startling absence of common sense'.
Last night the Home Office claimed the fiasco had led to an 'overall positive impact for the public' because officials had learned important lessons.
New plans were announced last month to build a secure immigration detention centre on the Bicester site, although it will require planning permission.
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