Accommodation at a ‘luxury’ detention centre for failed asylum seekers at Pease Pottage has cost taxpayers more than £6 million to hold just 14 families.
Cedars - a secure centre for families awaiting deportation - is run by the Home Office ... but has frequently been left empty.
The staggering accommodation costs - more than that of some of the world’s leading hotels - are revealed in a report by Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt - and have now led to a call for the centre to be shut down.
Cedars has been open since 2011 and is on the site of a former hotel. It is run by the security firm G4S on behalf of the Home Office and has 44 beds accommodating up to nine families at a time - costing nearly £34,000 a year per detainee.
That’s the equivalent of more than £1,200 a night if each family stayed at the centre for a full year.
However, the real cost is much higher - around £150,000 per family a night - because most families spend only 72 hours at the centre.
And usually not more than three families are accommodated at a time because of a Home Office agreement over childcare with the children’s charity Barnado’s which provides social workers and child welfare services at Cedars.
Meanwhile, a stay in an ‘executive king’ room at the Ritz Hotel in London is £1,287 a night while London’s Savoy hotel charges from £1,150 for a suite with a view of the River Thames, making it cheaper than the minimum nightly cost of Cedars.
Figures show that the cost of running Cedars in 2014/15 was £6,398,869 when a total of only 14 tamilies stayed there.
Now a call has gone out to the Government to close it down or change its use because it is “a misdirection of public money that could be better used for other purposes.”
The call has come in a report last week into the detention of vulnerable people by former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw who added that the current use of Cedars was “simply unacceptable at a time of financial austerity.”
The standard of accommodation at Cedars - officially labelled ‘pre-departure accommodation’ for families before deportation - is said to be ‘high’ and is ‘family friendly.’ It has extensive grounds with ‘play areas offering outdoor and indoor activities.’
The Shaw report states that, although occupants are kept under lock and key, ‘there is free association within shared areas for the rare occasions when there was more than one family present.’
And, said Stephen Shaw: “It was reported that most families remain in their rooms and that the extensive play and entertainment facilities and grounds were widely under-used.
“Many of the facilities were barely, if ever, in use, for example a well equipped multi gym.
“The centre had no residents on either of the two occasions I visited.”
Cedars has nine individual apartments, including one with full access for disabled people. Each apartment has a kitchen and lounge area, family bathroom and between 1 and 3 bedrooms to accommodate up to six people.
There are lounges, play areas for small children, a gym, a library with a range of books in different languages and suitable for different age groups; access to IT and the internet, a multi-sensory room, café and dining area where families can eat with other residents three times a day or take food away to cook in their apartments.
There is also access to landscaped gardens with a variety of age-appropriate play areas and a pets corner for children, basketball court with outside equipment for residents to play football and other games, a multi-faith prayer room and mosque; childcare staff, including qualified social workers, welfare and counselling support to enable families, in particular children, to prepare for their return and receive assistance to manage emotional distress; 24-hour healthcare, including daily access to a GP.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Government met its commitment to end the routine detention of children for immigration purposes by fundamentally changing the system to ensure that the welfare of the child is at the heart of every decision we make.
“The low level of use of Cedars is a testament to the success of the returns process and that more families are accepting voluntary assistance to leave the UK when they no longer have a lawful basis to stay here.
“Cedars has only ever been intended to be used as a last resort after all voluntary return options have failed and following the advice of a panel of independent child safeguarding experts.
“The ongoing cost of pre-departure accommodation is under review.”
A Home Office spokesman declined to say how many people are employed at Cedars and declined to allow a County Times photographer to take photos of the premises.