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Serco welcomes findings of independent investigation into Yarl’s Wood

Published: 14 Jan 2016

Serco, the international service company, is today publishing the independent investigation by Kate Lampard CBE and her co-investigator, Ed Marsden, into the operations at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (Yarl’s Wood). The company welcomes the report, a report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons, published in August 2015, is also available here (opens in a new browser window).

The independent investigation team, who reported to Rachel Lomax, one of Serco’s Non-Executive Directors and Chair of the Board’s Corporate Responsibility and Risk Committee, highlights the challenges of working within and operating the facility. Significantly their report concludes there is no abusive culture at Yarl’s Wood, stating: “we do not believe there is a hidden or significant problem of serious misconduct or inappropriate behaviour by staff”. It continues: “the majority of staff appear to be sympathetic to the concerns and needs of residents and to deal with them in a caring and supportive manner”.

The report goes on to make a series of recommendations to improve operations at Yarl’s Wood and the care of residents. Serco is today committing to respond to all of these recommendations and has already agreed, or completed, over 30 of the changes. Significant changes and improvements already achieved, or being implemented, include:

  • An 11% increase in staffing levels compared to the low point in May 2015
  • Focus on recruiting more female staff, which is currently at 55%, with eight out of eleven recent recruits being women
  • A new Assistant Director who is joining the Centre in February
  • A new shift pattern which has increased the staffing profile during the day and night
  • A review of recruitment to ensure suitable candidates are selected
  • New specialist training for all staff introduced including modules on subjects such as safeguarding, human trafficking and mental health
  • The removal of the remaining security wire at the centre this month and improvements to the outdoor sports area.
  • Introduction of new menus designed with a greater focus on nutrition and a better balanced diet
  • Introduction of body cameras for all front-line staff
  • Introduction of multi-lingual self-service electronic kiosks for residents and biometric fingerprint recognition technology

Rachel Lomax, Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Board’s Corporate Responsibility and Risk Committee, said: “I welcome the findings of the Investigation and I would like to thank Ms Lampard and her team for their detailed and comprehensive work. I believe that the recommendations she has made, nearly all of which we will be implementing, should significantly improve the operations of Yarl’s Wood.”

Rupert Soames, Chief Executive of Serco, said: “The recommendations of the Investigation will enable us to deliver a number of operational improvements, and we are already implementing many of them. Critically, her review repeats the finding of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons that there is not an abusive culture at Yarl’s Wood, and that the majority of the staff are sympathetic to the concerns and needs of residents and deal with them in a caring and supportive manner, often in very challenging circumstances.”

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Background to the commissioning of the report

For a number of years, the work of Yarl’s Wood has been subject to intense external criticism and scrutiny. In March 2015 a report by Channel 4 News included undercover recordings of staff making unacceptable and derogatory comments. It is vital that the operation of such an important part of the UK’s immigration system has the confidence of the public and policy-makers. It is also important for Serco and those who work at Yarl’s Wood to have it adjudged whether they are doing a good job in difficult circumstances, or if in fact there are broader problems, as some commentators have suggested.

Accordingly, within days of the Channel 4 News report, Serco asked Kate Lampard CBE, to undertake an independent and comprehensive investigation, overseen by one of its Non-Executive Directors, into the culture at Yarl’s Wood and how the culture and management of the centre affect the welfare and well-being of residents. Ms Lampard, a former barrister, and her team have an outstanding reputation for thoroughness and independence. They recently oversaw the investigations into Jimmy Savile’s activities in NHS hospitals and reported to the Secretary of State for Health on lessons learned from the Savile affair for the NHS as a whole. Shortly after Ms Lampard started her review of Yarl’s Wood, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons conducted an unannounced and independent inspection of the Centre, and the Home Office commissioned the Shaw Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons, focused on Immigration Removal Centres such as Yarl’s Wood.

The findings of the report

Both the Lampard investigation and the Shaw review, also published today, point to some of the key challenges running Yarl’s Wood, notably:-

  • Increasing numbers of Time-Served Foreign National Offenders awaiting removal from the country following completion of their prison sentences, some of whom are disruptive and violent and do not mix well with the general population.
  • Increasing numbers of residents at Yarl’s Wood arriving with mental health issues, which Serco staff and institution are not best-equipped to manage.
  • The issues of greatest concern to residents are healthcare provision and the management of their immigration cases; neither of these functions are provided or managed by Serco.

The Lampard investigation makes a number of recommendations, over 30 of which Serco has already accepted or implemented. The Review identifies a number of detailed areas where the operation of Yarl’s Wood can be improved; in particular the review identifies that the introduction of a new operating model in February 2015, designed to deliver a more relaxed and open regime for residents at significantly lower cost to the taxpayer, has resulted in inadequate levels of staffing, which has put some aspects of the operation of the Centre under pressure. Serco has instituted a thorough review of staffing, and since its low point in May 2015, during the transition to the new contract, staffing numbers have already been increased by around 11%.


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