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Full cost of Bibby Stockholm barge to remain secret as it is not in public interest, Home Office says

Home Office has been paying £300,000 a week while the controversial barge stands empty, but won't reveal total cost

The Home Office is refusing to reveal the cost of the controversial Bibby Stockholm asylum barge because it would “not be in the public interest” to publish the information now.

The department has refused to disclose the cost of buying and running the barge, as well as associated costs, in response to a freedom of information (FOI) request, despite holding the information in its files.

It comes after it emerged that the department has paid more than £22m to Corporate Travel Management just for the lease of the barge over an 18-month period.

The total price of the unoccupied barge may be even higher, with additional costs including berthing and dispersal payments to Dorset Council totalling £3,500 per occupied bed space, though it is not clear how much of this has been paid already.

The Liberal Democrats, who made the FOI request, said the refusal to publish the information “adds insult to injury” after two months of the barge standing empty at a cost of £300,000 a week after being evacuated in its opening week following the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

Letters are now being sent to asylum seekers to tell them they will be returning to the floating vessel after the completion of all necessary tests, although no date has yet been given for their re-embarkation.

Bibby Stockholm is the first vessel procured by the Government as part of plans to reduce the £8m-a-day cost of hiring hotel rooms for asylum seekers while their claims are processed.

But the Home Office has not stated how much the barge will cost and refused to answer the Lib Dems’ request for the final purchase cost as well as the “estimated total operational running and associated costs of the vessel the Bibby Stockholm over the next 12 months”.

The department argued that “it would not be in the public interest” to release the information before meeting the standards and requirements for the publication of Government statistics, which it will do at an unspecified future date.

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “The Home Secretary has squandered far too much time on her Bibby Stockholm pet project. 

“Refusing to tell the public the full amount of taxpayers’ money that has been wasted in the process just adds insult to injury. 

“This whole ordeal is yet more evidence that the Conservative Government is utterly failing when it comes to asylum – and they have no one to blame but themselves.

“The Home Secretary must finally get serious, starting with tackling the backlog and creating safe and legal routes. Not chasing yet another headline.”

It came as asylum seekers were told they would be returning to the barge.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office has started to send letters to asylum seekers to confirm the re-embarkation of the Bibby Stockholm and notify them that they will be accommodated on board, following the vessel completing all necessary tests.

“The letters confirm the next steps for asylum seekers and reiterate that all asylum accommodation continues to be offered on a no-choice basis.

“Delivering alternative accommodation sites, such as the vessel, is more affordable for taxpayers and more manageable for communities, due to healthcare and catering facilities on site, 24/7 security and the purpose-built safe accommodation they provide.”

The update comes as a Dorset resident is bringing legal action against the Home Office over the use of the barge, which is docked at Portland Port.

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