Empty Bibby Stockholm barge cost taxpayers more than £560,000 - enough to clear 1,000 asylum claims in backlog

8 September 2023, 07:25 | Updated: 8 September 2023, 07:31

The cost of the Bibby Stockholm could have recruited more asylum decision makers
The cost of the Bibby Stockholm could have recruited more asylum decision makers. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Corr

The Bibby Stockholm barge has cost more than half a million pounds in the last month, enough to clear 1,000 asylum claims.

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The empty vessel, moored off the Dorset Coast, was supposed to house 500 migrants, but only 39 moved onto the barge last month, before being taken off four days later after Legionella bacteria was found in the water supply.

Figures from the non-profit organisation Reclaim the Sea show hiring out the vessel from Bibby Marine Limited and keeping it at Portland Port amounted to £24,500 a day - £560,000 over four weeks.

Over £560,000 could have been used to employ 20 asylum decision makers at the Home Office for a whole year. Roles outside of London are currently being advertised with an annual starting salary of £28,000, and in the capital £32,000.

Read more: Bibby Stockholm plans face fresh legal challenge over Government's 'callous disregard' for safety

The Bibby Stockholm was brought in to house migrants temporarily
The Bibby Stockholm was brought in to house migrants temporarily. Picture: Alamy

In just one month, 20 asylum decision makers could clear 80 claims - double the amount of people who were on the barge.

Shadow immigration minster Stephen Kinnock told LBC: "The government are casting around for any way of getting people into emergency accommodation.

"But what they should really being doing is recruiting more case workers and decision makers to the Home Office so that these claims can get processed.

"That means getting into the backlog, recruiting the right kind of asylum case workers and decision makers to get that backlog cleared and get people out of hotels."

Read more: Channel migrant crossings hit new daily record for 2023 as 872 people cross on 15 small vessels

Besides the cost, there are worries over the efficiency of decision making at the Home Office.

Legal Access Care Manager with refugee charity Care4Calais Hannah Marwood told LBC: "On average it's taking two to three years to process asylum claims.

"A decision maker will make an average of four decisions a month on asylum claims but in 2010/2011 it was about 13, so there's definitely been a decline in the efficiency of decision makers."

There are estimated to be 51,000 asylum seekers currently in hotels across the UK - having gone up by 3,000 since the end of March - costing the taxpayer about £6m a day.

Last month the Home Office revealed more than 175,000 people are waiting for a decision on their asylum application, taking the cost of managing the backlog to almost £4 billion.

Migrants were taken off after Legionella bacteria was found
Migrants were taken off after Legionella bacteria was found. Picture: Alamy

In response to LBC's findings, Mayor of Portland and Labour Councillor Carralyn Parkes said: "I do sense frustration and anger. Portland had a hospital which has been closed, we had a minor injuries unit which has been closed, we have one dentist and one GP surgery to cover the whole of the island.

"Our infrastructure is creaking at the seams. £20,000 a day could go a long way to re-establishing something like our minor injuries unit rather than having a barge sitting empty in Portland Port."

The Home Office's efficiency in processing asylum claims has been questioned
The Home Office's efficiency in processing asylum claims has been questioned. Picture: Alamy

On Tuesday, the Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick suggested it could be weeks before migrants are moved back onto the barge.

He told the Commons asylum seekers would be moved back onto the Bibby Stockholm "as soon as possible" providing safety checks show "no cause for concern".

James Wilson is the director of charity Detention Action and told us he's pleased asylum seekers haven't been moved back in.

"We have serious concerns about the use of the Bibby Stockholm at all.

"There's already been concerns about illness outbreak on the barge and there have been serious concerns raised by the Fire Brigades Union about fire risk, so there is serious risk about safety and right now I'm glad there is no one on the Bibby Stockholm."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain with hotel accommodation costing an unacceptable £6million a day.

"The Home Office is committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and limit the burden on the taxpayer.

"This is why we have been looking at a range of alternative accommodation sites, including vessels which have been used safely and successfully by Scottish and Dutch Governments, and former military sites."