Review says asylum support service is failing in purpose and direction

An independent review of the government body that supports asylum
seekers caused controversy last week not only because of its
critical findings but because of the government’s refusal to
publish most of it.

Immigration minister Beverley Hughes commissioned the National
Asylum Support Service review in January after the organisation was
criticised over plans to turn a hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent, into
a centre to accommodate asylum seekers. The proposals were halted
when it emerged that councils and local people had not been

In a ministerial statement last week, Hughes said that despite
improving in some areas the review showed Nass “faced real
difficulties in getting on top of its job” and had “failed to
establish a clear strategy to provide purpose, direction and
governance of its activities”.

Dave Garratt, deputy director of asylum advice at Refugee Action,
says the key findings paint a realistic picture of the situation on
the ground. They highlight the need for Nass to have the necessary
financial and managerial resources to do its job, and state that
the Home Office agency needs to “strengthen its management
capacity” at all levels.

The review also finds that Nass is failing to deal effectively with
its external partners, such as local authorities and the voluntary
sector, due to a lack of understanding of their roles and the lack
of agreed processes between them.

Garratt believes that the regionalisation of Nass’s housing
contract management and outreach staff functions, announced earlier
this month, will improve this problem and result in better services
for clients. “The regionalisation is one of the best ways Nass can
go forward for clients and for their relationships with regional
stakeholders and voluntary groups,” he says.

The review team also supports the regionalisation and calls for
more of Nass’s services to be handled at a local level. “Further
steps need to be taken to push even more tasks out to the regions,”
says Alan Barnish, a review team member and former chief executive
of Cambridgeshire Council.

The key findings go on to call for Nass to have a “period of
stability to enable it to get on top of the job”. Barnish points
out that regionalisation alone is a major task.

Garratt welcomes the call for stability and acknowledges that Nass
has a difficult job to do. “We’ve certainly seen how Nass has been
expected to quickly implement new procedures,” he says. “With the
best will in the world, any organisation would find it

The report is highly critical of some of Nass’s operations.
However, it is not currently open to public viewing on the grounds
that it constitutes “advice to ministers”.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Simon Hughes MP
disputes this decision and has written to David Blunkett to request
it is overturned.

He wrote: “Éthe implication of announcing an independent
review to parliament… is that the substantive findings of the
review will be made public… Given the troubled history of Nass,
it is surely in the public interest for this document to be made

Hughes has promised to take the case to the parliamentary ombudsman
if the full report is not published.

Alison Harvey, refugee policy manager at The Children’s Society,
says that while the key findings call for better relationships with
other stakeholders, the government is preventing the society from
reading the full report. “How can you have a service that fulfils
the recommendations without publishing the report?” she asks.

– See
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