The 100 page report of the local inquiry, conducted by a cross-party council select committee, urges the Home Office to protect the interests of council tax payers in Bedfordshire against the multi-million pound claim filed against the county' police authority.
The select committee inquiry team received evidence from the emergency services, Group 4, the centre's operators, the Immigration Service, and local representatives including residents, MPs and the Bishop of Bedford. Their report and its wide-ranging recommendations will be presented to Stephen Moore, the prison service head of security, who is conducting home decretary David Blunkett's 'over-arching' report into the events at Yarl's Wood. Mr Moore, who addressed the select committee in May, said he would welcome the local inquiry's findings as part of his wider investigation.
Bedfordshire CC leader Philip Hendry welcomed the select committee's findings. He said:
'The government has a duty to establish some form of effective asylum policy. In doing so it is important that the lessons of Yarl's Wood are taken into account. That is why this report recommends the introduction of an inspectorate to scrutinise all immigration centres. We also think that security measures such as emergency evacuation procedures should be tested and open to public review. It is critical that where centres are established, local communities should have access to up-to-date information about detainees housed in their area. All of these measures could help reduce wider public concern and restore confidence in the system.'
The recommendations include:
1. to request the Home Office to actively support the Bedfordshire Police Authority in its vigorous defence of the civil court claim from Group 4's insurers and in any event, to ensure that any costs falling on the public purse should be funded nationally, rather than by the council taxpayers of Bedfordshire and Luton;
2. to request the Home Office to review its insurance arrangements for establishments such as Yarl's Wood to ensure that in the event of a future similar occurrence, anywhere, costs will not fall on, or be imposed on, the local community through the local council tax or precepts thereon;
3. to request the Home Office to ensure that the community consultation in respect of the reconstruction of the Yarl's Wood facility takes into account local views and follows proper planning consultation processes;
4. to request the government to legislate at the earliest opportunity and as envisaged in the Planning Green Paper (Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change) to remove Crown Immunity and the ability to use Special Urgency Procedure from developments proposed by the government, except in the case of defence or national security, and that until such legislation is in place, the government uses the normal planning process to progress its non-defence or national security related development proposals;
5. to request the government to establish an independent inquiry to consider the various access road options open to the Home Office, as part of the processes involved in the reconstruction of the Yarl's Wood facility, that such works be funded by the Home Office and that the independent inquiry is requested to consider, and take into account the evidence received on this matter by the select committee as well as the views of local people and other interests;
6. to request the Home Office to ensure that all detention centres and similar establishments are equipped with sprinklers and security early warning systems linked to relevant external emergency and statutory authorities;
7. to request the relevant parliamentary select committee to conduct an inquiry into the costs and benefits of requiring sprinklers to be provided in a wider range of commercial, industrial and residential developments;
8. to request the Home Office to publish regularly updated anonymous lists of detainees for all detention centres indicating the number of asylum seekers being housed, country of origin and length of stay. Further information should be made available to an official inspectorate (see later recommendation) including information on any relevant criminal convictions;
9. to request the Home Office to require the Immigration Service and its agents to make arrangements for duplicate, or backup, copies of detainee and other essential information to be held off site, to be accessed by both facility operators and the emergency services in the event of a similar occurrence, such arrangements being regarded as good business continuity practice;
10. to request the Home Office to ensure that all detention centres publish detailed emergency plans for public scrutiny, including information on evacuation procedures and public safety plans in the event of a disturbance. These plans should be exercised at least twice a year with input from all relevant emergency and statutory agencies;
11. to request that the Home Office require that the agents managing and operating facilities such as Yarl's Wood, organise weekly fire evacuation drills to recognise the high turnover and throughput of detainees at such centres;
12. to request the Home Office to give inspection rights to an independent inspectorate to oversee detention centres, conduct unscheduled inspections and introduce a star rating system to evaluate each centre's performance based on a national set of criteria;
13. to request that the Home Office ensures improved access to independent advocates on behalf of detained asylum seekers, who can act on behalf of individuals' complaints in a bid to resolve concerns at an early stage and reduce opportunities for grievances and disturbances;
14. to request a further report from the select committee on the implementation or otherwise of these recommendations in 12 months time.