Agenda item

Home Office Asylum Hotel - Hampton by Hilton, Exeter Airport


The Director Housing, Health & Environment provided a position statement on the background and current issues being experienced by asylum seekers placed in hotel accommodation in the district by the Home Office. The Multi-Agency Coordination Group had been very effective in securing services for asylum seekers under partners control, however, a number of issues outside of EDDC’s and partners control had persisted from mobilisation of the hotel. Despite the council’s best efforts these concerns centred mainly around the adequacy of food and robust safeguarding arrangements remained issues. The report advocated continuing to work with local partners to ensure that the Home Office responded positively to the issues being raised with them.The report proposed extending the welfare support being provided by Refugee Support Devon to go some way towards improving the situation.


Councillor Kevin Blakey read out a statement that had been approved by all 3 Cranbrook ward members, this is summarised below:


‘The recommendation is that Cabinet endorse measures being taken to ensure the Home Office are accountable for providing adequate feeding and safeguarding of the asylum seekers. This is fine so far as it goes but it does not address the real and urgent matter of the provision of inadequate food for the disparate groups of people occupying the hotel.


I have been to the hotel, along with Cllr Kim Bloxham and Cllr Jess Bailey, to observe the foodservice operation. While the residents say that matters have improved with the availability of fresh fruit such as oranges and bananas over the last few weeks; since the local school raised its concerns with us, the main meals remain woefully unappetising to many. There was a lack variety and no provision of fresh vegetables or salads to ensure a healthy and balanced diet. On the occasion we visited, people were taking platefuls of only rice or potatoes, much of which was then thrown away, particularly potatoes that had not had eyes removed before cooking and were pale in colour even though they purported to be roast potatoes.


Meat is an issue. The small amount served sat in bland sauce that some of the residents disliked, the remaining residents could not eat it because their faiths do not permit the consumption of red meats. They will not eat the chicken because, according to all those that we spoke to the meat stinks and they do not believe it is safe or good to eat. Whilst there are certainly cultural issues with food at the hotel, we understand that the children are eating all types of foods at the Cranbrook Education Campus which seems to confirm the problem with the quality of the food being shipped in by the current contractor at the hotel.


Simon Jupp MP has been in touch with the service provider, who told him that they had received no complaints about the food and that all special dietary needs were being met. All the residents we spoke to complained about the food and 2 people who are diabetic have never been offered food appropriate to their medical needs. Perhaps these complaints have never been expressed to the service provider.


Some of those we spoke to reported increasing illness and weight loss. In short, many are suffering from malnutrition. This is not about quantity, it is about the quality, nutritional balance and cultural acceptability of what is offered. Remember that a significant proportion of the residents are children who need suitably balanced food to grow. The monotonous and unappetising offering currently provided is not working.


This is not about providing a restaurant experience for the residents. We are not forgetting that all the residents are waiting for their asylum or residency applications to be determined by the Home Office, who will decide whether they have valid reasons to be in the UK. Whatever the outcomes of their applications, it is clear to us that while they wait for the Home Office decisions, they should be treated humanely and with respect. The rights and wrongs of how the asylum seekers got here is not a matter for us, but in the 21st century the UK has no excuse for treating anybody in such a careless and inappropriate manner. East Devon surely cannot permit poor treatment of our guests, whether they are welcome or not.


The report shows that a grant of £217,500 is available to meet local needs. £31,000 has already been earmarked for transport (actually extending welfare support provision), leaving around £186,000 for other support. First and foremost we believe that the Home Office should cancel the current food supply contract. Sending bulk cooked food over long distances makes no sense financially, environmentally or qualitatively. We suggest that the food should be prepared locally, particularly as this will enable council officers and members to have close contact.


The food does not need to be more expensive than that which is currently provided so we are not suggesting that the Home Office increase the budget, just spend it better. Indeed many of the foods wanted by the residents are cheap to make, particularly meat-free meals with an emphasis on pulses and fresh vegetables. We ask that this council writes to the Home Office urgently to robustly ask for this.


We also note that local schools, particularly the Cranbrook Education Campus, are providing food and even school uniforms with no additional funding. This is clearly unsustainable, and government should provide additional funding for the extra costs incurred by the schools.


Transport is another issue. The fact that the hotel is in an isolated location with no facilities within a walkable distance means that the residents are reliant on buses or taxis to get to schools or doctors. In the case of school transport, some children as young as 4 years are travelling without a chaperone, clearly unacceptable. We suggest that some of the available budget be used to pay for a coordinator to manage all residents’ needs, including transport, health and food requirements so that children can get to and from school with appropriate safeguarding and that transport to doctors can be effectively arranged.


In conclusion, EDDC must press the Home Office to make the changes we have suggested. This is a highly emotive matter but I believe the decisions made by Cabinet today should be guided by the humanitarian needs that are pressing here and now. We feel sure you will make the right choices.’


Further discussions included the following:

  • Why was the Home Office not providing bus passes and additional support to medical facilities?
  • Call on Simon Jupp MP to put pressure on the Home Office to terminate the food contract particularly as the school summer holidays were coming up, so the children would not have access to food from the schools
  • Set up a mobile kitchen on site to alleviate the lack of access to kitchen facilities
  • Give temporary working permits to those residents that could work
  • The need for a Safeguarding Lead to protect young people and vulnerable adults
  • The hotel management lacks capability
  • The urgency to act and step-up now as the Home Office was not
  • The need to hold the Home Office to account
  • The need for rapid action – there were residents in the hotel more than capable of cooking for large numbers
  • This was shameful and embarrassing – less talk more action
  • There were plenty of capable and willing local providers
  • Should a Task and Finish Forum be set up to get things done?
  • The need for clear communications with the Home Office to what the issues are and to keep up the pressure on issues we cannot control or deliver
  • There has been limited sight of the self-audit report from the Home Office



  1. To delegate authority to the Director of Finance, Director of Housing, Health & Environment in consultation with the Portfolio Holder Finance (Assets) and Portfolio Holder Sustainable Homes and Communities as well Cllrs Bailey, Bloxham and Blakey to spend up to £217k. The spend is to be used for welfare support, transport, kitchens, food contract, healthcare & medication, fridges, hotel management, safeguarding, insurance concerning the use of kitchens and infant food.


  1. To send a further letter to the Home Office expressing the council’s ongoing concerns, while still putting pressure on the local MP Simon Jupp to take further action with the Home Office


  1. To explore the issues of an off-site meeting and the hiring of a co-ordinator[AC1]  type role.



To maintain pressure on the Home Office to ensure that asylum seekers in the district are properly fed and safeguarded whilst in their care.



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