Asylum Seekers’ £500k Cabs Fury

Asylum seekers could be ferried from London into Birmingham in taxis – with taxpayers footing the £500,000 bill. Under controversial plans they would be driven 120 miles in mini-cabs from Dover and London up to the city and across the West Midlands over the next three years.

But Birmingham’s Cabinet Member for Housing Coun John Lines has refused to sign the contract for the scheme, claiming it is “morally wrong”.

Coun Lines (Con, Bartley Green) said: “How is it that asylum seekers can find their way from Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and elsewhere to London yet they have to be brought up the motorway to Birmingham in a black cab?

“This contract would be put out to tender and the only companies who could meet its requirements are taxi, minicab and coach companies.

“I refused to sign it and the housing department is now having to seek legal advice on the way forward. If I were to sign it I would not be able to look my constituents in the eye when bus services are being axed.

“My conscience will not allow me to go through with this.”

Under the scheme, taxi and minicab firms and coach companies would all be able to bid for a share of the contract which will bring thousands of refugees into the region over the next three years.

In June, Birmingham, as part of the West Midlands Consortium, signed a new £2.5 million contract with the Home Office’s National Asylum Support Service. Other councils in the consortium are Dudley, Wolverhampton and Coventry.

They all agreed to take in refugees who arrive in the south east and Dover and are then dispersed around the UK.

Birmingham is the lead authority in the consortium and is handling the contract on behalf of the others.

There are currently around 2,000 asylum seekers in Birmingham. Most are in shared accommodation in the private sector, although there are about 260 council properties containing 650 beds.

The refugees are not council tenants and are placed in the unpopular, hard to rent properties.

Richard Byrne, spokesman for the Refugee Council, said asylum seekers were previously transported by a private company in minibuses.

He said the contract was under review because it is not deemed to be flexible – some days there would be just one refugee on a 15-seater minibus, other days it would be full.

He said using taxis could be cost effective if the taxi firms gave a generous discount for such a big contract

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the contract Birmingham and the other West Midlands councils had signed was to provide “accommodation and related services” for asylum seekers.

“That would include transport and how the council chooses to transport the asylum seekers is entirely up to them.” she said.