Inside the Manchester hotel booked out for months to house asylum seekers
Plus, a new report says the city has sold out to Abu Dhabi
Dear Millers — this morning’s Guardian features a striking column under the provocative headline “How a great English city sold itself to Abu Dhabi’s elite — and not even for a good price”. It shares the findings of an interesting new report that suggests Manchester City Council virtually gave away land in Ancoats and New Islington in its efforts to regenerate the area and have exhibited a remarkable lack of transparency about the details of those property deals.
The column’s author Aditya Chakrabortty raises some important points about human rights abuses in the UAE and cites our own reporting, linking to Joshi’s long form profile of Sir Richard Leese and that infamous “middle class tosspots and I hate them” quote about local housing activists. Welcome to our new Millers who signed up after discovering us this morning. Chakrabortty also veers into the kind of hyperbole you often get from national journalists writing about a place they don’t live. For example, here’s him writing about Abu Dhabi’s purchase of run-down land between the Rochdale and Ashton canals: “Those of Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs who trousered chunks of London could never dream of such a glittering prize.”
We spoke to one of the report’s authors yesterday, so we lead today’s Mill briefing on that, and we will return to this topic soon, so please do get in touch to pass on your views and leaked documents, or leave a comment below.
Our main story today is a concerning report by Jack Dulhanty about a hotel housing asylum seekers in an affluent suburb of south Manchester. The reporting we’ve done on the story in recent weeks has led Serco — the company in charge of the hotel — to review the food they are providing to residents. We discuss that story on today’s episode of our podcast, which is free to listen.
As always, our Thursday edition is a members-only newsletter, but non-members will be able to read the top of it to get a taste of what we are reporting on. If you want to get all of our journalism in your inbox, and would like to support our work, please do join up as a member using the button below.
Your Mill briefing
A report published today by the University of Sheffield's Urban Institute takes a look at Manchester City Council's relationship with the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG), owners of Manchester City Football Club. In 2014, they partnered to set up Manchester Life, a huge development of 1,468 apartments and townhouses in Ancoats and New Islington. The report examines the abject lack of transparency surrounding the partnership and argues that the city could have driven a much better bargain with its wealthy new friends in the gulf. All the Manchester Life assets are owned by off-shore companies ultimately owned by ADUG and the report couldn’t find evidence that any rental income has been earned by the council so far. "There hasn't been any disclosure of the arrangements," Dr Richard Goulding, one of the report's authors, told us yesterday. "Because a lot of it's going over into Jersey, which is a secrecy jurisdiction." The report suggests that Manchester City Council "sold the family silver too cheap," and did a deal below market rates with a company that has close links to the ruling family of the UAE, a country with an appalling human rights record.
Sir Richard Leese, who was council leader at the time of the negotiations, responded this morning on Twitter saying that the Guardian’s write-up of the report “Doesn't seem to mention that in less than a decade Ancoats has gone from an urban desert to one of the most successful urban regeneration schemes in the world.” Many Mancunians on Twitter seemed to agree, with one popular response to Chakrabortty’s Guardian column saying: “I’m sorry but what unmitigated nonsense — Manchester City Council had been trying to re-generate East Manchester since Adam was a lad (and with no success). The deal done with Mansour has achieved that.” What do you think? Get stuck in by hitting the comment button below.
Penny Mordaunt was eliminated from the Conservative leadership race yesterday, leaving Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss — two levelling up sceptics — in the final round. While other candidates went little further than paying lip service to the levelling up agenda, Mordaunt reiterated her commitment to Boris Johnson’s much-talked-about ambition to close regional inequalities. Truss has promised to cut taxes from day one, whereas Sunak has emphasised sound public finances. They are now vying for the votes of Conservative members, who, according to recent polling, do not list levelling up as a top priority.
Plans have been submitted to expand Angel Square, in the Noma district. Two new buildings, 2 and 3 Angel Square, will jointly deliver some 440,000 sqft of Grade A office space and complement 1 and 4 Angel Square — the latter to be completed next year. The plans include access to green space, communal areas and possibly a rooftop restaurant.
A man on trial for killing his terminally ill wife has been found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. Graham Mansfield, a retired baggage handler at Manchester Airport, said his wife, Dyanna, asked him to kill her. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer, which had spread to her lymph nodes. Mansfield attempted suicide afterwards.
And finally, on Saturday, the 40th “little library” on the Manchester Little Library Trail is launching at Minehead Community Cafe in Withington. The event kicks off at 11am. Read our lovely piece from January last year about how one woman sparked a movement for little libraries in Manchester.
Inside the Manchester hotel booked out for months to house asylum seekers
By Jack Dulhanty
Off a tree-lined road in affluent south Manchester stands a hotel: it’s seen better days. The gardens are unkempt, the restaurant looks tired — its neon sign a dull grey outline, unlit for months.
If you attempt to book a room online, none will be available. If you try phoning the hotel chain’s national office, a polite voice will tell you that the hotel is closed. But stand outside, and a glitch in the matrix will reveal itself: people coming in and out of the hotel, catching the bus into the city, smoking cigarettes.
There’s not a nefarious purpose at work here, but a good one: the hotel houses the city’s asylum seekers. They are placed in hotels like this as part of the government’s duty to arrange accommodation for them and their families while they wait for updates on the status of their asylum applications. In this case, it seems that the entire hotel has been rented out by Serco, the giant company that has the Home Office contract for housing asylum seekers in the North West.
In the past, disclosing the location of these hotels has led to campaigns of harassment by anti-immigration activists and the far-right. As such, it’s only right for us to conceal the hotel’s name and location.
But now, concerns are being raised less about the threats from outside the hotel and more about the challenges residents are facing inside. Residents, ex-residents and a charity working with asylum seekers have told us about bad food at the hotel and a sense that they can’t report their complaints for fear of undermining their asylum claims — allegations that Serco vociferously denies.
Residents are allowed to leave the hotel, signing in and out as they go, but they have their attendance monitored at meal times. “If you get three meals, that’s okay, that means you're staying at the hotel,” says one, “otherwise you will be treated as if you are not.”
The problem with attending three meals a day is that — according to the people we have spoken to — the meals are bad. “They don't provide a proper amount of vegetables, fruits and so on for children,” one ex-resident told us. “For more than five meals I've seen those kids eating either chicken nuggets or fish fingers.”
Residents have told The Mill they have been suffering digestion problems, and that the meat they are served seems old and smells bad. “When they speak to the GP,” says one ex-resident still in contact with people staying in the hotel, “(the GP) said: 'we know that there is a problem with the food inside this hotel and you can't do anything about it until you get out of here.’”
In response to these allegations, Serco told us: “We are reviewing the quality of the food being provided at this hotel to make sure it is meeting the required standards.” The company admits it has had seven complaints this year about the food at this specific hotel but says that if a GP had concerns, they should have reported them through official channels.
Jenni Halliday, Serco’s contract director for asylum seeker accommodation, said:
Our first concern is always for the health and well being of the asylum seekers in our care, who are at an extremely difficult time in their lives. We are proud of our team that supports them and we try to work closely with all the other stakeholders who have the interests of these people at heart.
One resident said the food was so bad residents started trying to cook in their rooms. The fire risk meant they were stopped by Serco staff, who told them they were acting illegally. The staff at the hotel are described as uncooperative, not following through with complaints and sometimes advising residents against making them.
This seems especially worrying in cases where residents are complaining about harassment: “many harassment cases happen inside this hotel, especially for women who are asylum seekers and refugee women who are vulnerable,” says an ex-resident.
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