This is a joint update from the subgroups that feed into the Multi Agency Forum (MAF), which supports operational planning of the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland. The MAF consists of representatives from the Home Office, Dorset Council, Portland Town Council, Weymouth Town Council, Dorset Police, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, NHS Dorset and the barge operators Landry & Kling and CTM.

Issued to stakeholders on Tuesday 7 November 2023.

Last week Multi-Agency Forum (MAF) partners, including the Home Office, Dorset Council, Dorset NHS and Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS), held a series of meetings with representatives of elected members from Dorset Council, Portland Town Council, Weymouth Town Council, and from the local business community.  This was an opportunity for local councillors and business owners to ask a wide range of questions.

We understand from those representatives attending that they found the exchange reassuring, but felt more could be done to convey such reassuring information to the wider public.  These concerns will be taken forward by the MAF’s Comms subgroup and the Dorset Council-led Community Impact Group, which meets daily to review the situation.

As might be expected, many of the same issues were raised in each of the sessions, so we have provided information and responses to questions on a thematic basis rather than for each meeting. 

Legionella

The onboard contractors, CTM, explained the steps which had been taken since the first concerning test results, including the flushing of the water system, and development of a water management control plan.  Dorset Council are satisfied that the legionella controls are satisfactory and that measures are in place to monitor the situation.

Dorset NHS confirmed that nobody on board had been infected by the bacterium, and the point was made that legionella is a widespread public health risk that is routinely managed safely, and there was no reason to believe the barge could not be managed in the same way as other buildings used by the public. 

Fire Safety

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) provided a detailed explanation of how fire risks on the barge had been assessed, and their proposed remedies.  All the steps they had suggested had been implemented by the barge operator, and DWFRS were now satisfied that, in the event of a fire or other emergency, the barge can be safely evacuated and that ongoing drills to exercise the evacuation plan will be used as the primary method of evidencing this as the occupancy increases towards full capacity.  Having been taken through the detail, one councillor commented that ‘if DWFRS were happy the barge was safe, then they were happy’.

The safe capacity of the barge was also discussed, as there had been media reports the barge was designed to accommodate 222 people, when the Home Office was planning to accommodate up to 500 people.  It was explained that the 222 number comes from the online marketing material provided by the barge owner, Bibby, when used for single-occupancy rooms.  The Home Office are planning dual-occupancy rooms, and a small number of bedrooms containing 4 or 6 beds.  The Fire Service are  satisfied that the fire safety measures now in place are  adequate for the proposed number of asylum seekers to be housed on the barge.

There was also concern whether the exterior cladding could create a ‘Grenfell’ situation.  Dorset Fire Service again reassured that the cladding on the barge was very different – it was metal, and fire retardant. 

Community Safety

Both Dorset Police and the Community Impact Group currently assess the situation on a daily basis.  There is no evidence to support any rise in crime or other anti-social behaviour, but the matter is kept under constant review.

Dorset Council, from the additional funds provided by the Home Office, have increased CCTV coverage and monitoring, now providing 24/7 service. Extra Community Safety Patrol Officers are deployed in Weymouth town centre and on Portland. This increase in community safety provision is not specifically related to the barge, but provides an enhanced service for everyone in Weymouth & Portland. 

Housing

There is a perception that asylum seekers will be given preferential treatment in terms of housing.  Dorset Council explained they had received a written undertaking from the Home Office that no notices of asylum would be issued to anyone on board, so there should not be an added burden on Dorset’s housing list.

The council also explained that if an asylum seeker did present themselves requiring housing, they would be treated as any other single adult male – which given current selection criteria would make them the least likely to be offered housing, compared to local families, the elderly, those with disabilities, etc. 

Health Services

To minimise the impact on local health services, the Home Office has provided additional funding which NHS Dorset have used to commission a team from Bournemouth that has previous experience working with asylum seekers.  The medical facility on the barge will be staffed 5 days a week, providing a GP service with which the asylum seekers will register, this means they do  not need to register with a local practice.

Care will be available to residents of Bibby Stockholm either on the barge itself between the hours of 9am-5pm, or remotely (including outside of these hours).  Access to translation services is in place and this has been shared with local services so that asylum seekers can be redirected back to the medical facility on the barge should they need help.

Medical provision includes:

  • Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP) 5 days per week – onsite – 9am – 5pm
  • GP onsite (one day per week) – onsite – 9am – 5pm
  • Remote access to GP consultations when onsite care is unavailable or needs additional support.
  • A mental health counsellor is being recruited.

Those living onboard Bibby Stockholm experiencing oral pain can seek assistance with the appointed health care provider. If urgent dental treatment is required, this will be accessed via the non-emergency 111 number.  Following a tendering process, we have appointed a provider to deliver pharmacy items to the barge when required.

Vaccinations:  NHS Dorset explained that the asylum seekers can get some vaccinations (eg TB, Diptheria) in a programme set out by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), but that age and other health criteria for flu/covid vaccines will apply as it does for the UK population.

Transport

An initial route had been agreed by the MAF, but this service was always intended to be kept under review to meet the needs of those living on board the barge, and as numbers on board grew.  The original double-decker bus has been replaced by a smaller coach, and further revisions are likely.  It is understood that around 70% of the barge residents use the service daily to go off-site.

There have also been concerns that this service means that asylum seekers are just being dropped-off and left to ‘hang out’ in Weymouth and Portland.  This is not happening, nor is it in anyone’s interest for it to happen.  Additional funding from the Home Office is being used by Dorset Council to develop a range of activities and services to keep the asylum seekers occupied (supporting their mental and physical well-being), and to help foster community cohesion through volunteer work and joint activities with local communities.  The transport provision will evolve as these activities evolve. Some asylum seekers are already doing volunteer work in the community.  There are also be exercise, recreational and multi-faith facilities on board to minimise the need to leave the site. 

Business Community

The business community wanted to know what was being done to protect the local economy.  Some business owners have suggested their business is down by as much as 20%, and attribute this to people deciding not to come to Weymouth because of the barge.

That figure was disputed by other local business owners, who claim that the cost-of-living crisis, a return to foreign holidays post-pandemic, poor summer weather, and increases in local car parking charges have had more effect on local tourism businesses.

Responding to concerns that the barge might impact the number of cruise ship arrivals, Portland Port said they were in regular contact with all the cruise operators.  None were concerned about the barge, and no planned arrivals had been cancelled.  Local business owners welcomed this positive news, given the importance to the local economy of higher-spending cruise ship visitors.

The barge operator also pointed to job creation and investment in the local economy, through the recruitment of local people to staff the barge, and by purchasing food produce from local farmers and suppliers rather than sourcing thorough national suppliers.

Dorset Council will consider, when reviewing the local communications plan for the barge, if there is more they can do with their existing marketing and communications activities to attract visitors to the area. 

Well-being of Asylum Seekers

There was considerable focus in each of the meetings about the well-being of those living aboard the barge.  These concerns ranged across their mental and physical well-being, to their freedom of movement, access to legal and other advice, and provision of packed lunches.

The barge operator, CTM, reported that morale appears high, and none of the asylum seekers felt intimidation when they were out and about.  There was no truth in the rumours of attempted suicides on board – in fact, many new arrivals comment that the accommodation and onboard support is better than the hotels they’d been staying in, and that the barge is very different in reality from what they’d read in the media.

Councillors had heard that gym equipment had been taken away.  The barge operator said that some free weights had been removed, on health and safety advice, but a brand new multi gym had now arrived.  There were also treadmills, bikes, and rowing machines available, as well as space for basketball and five-a-side football.

Some Councillors had also been told residents weren’t able to get a packed lunch if they were away from the barge during the day.  This is untrue.   Packed lunches are available, which do need to be booked the day before.  This is explained to people on their arrival, and the barge operator has undertaken to remind the residents at the frequent meetings they hold on board to address any concerns or misunderstandings.

Concerns were also expressed over access to legal aid and legal representation.  The Home Office noted that it was clear from the legal cases it was receiving that asylum seekers did not appear to have issues accessing legal advice, and that the Migrant Help helpline was available 24/7 to offer advice and assistance.

All those boarding the barge have to go through an airport-style scanner.  Although some councillors were concerned this searching regime was different to a hotel and might be felt ‘oppressive’, the decision on security arrangements was not a Home Office decision, but had been agreed by the local MAF Police & Community Safety subgroup, to ensure the safety and well-being of the barge and all those aboard.

The provision of a vehicle for the barge’s security team, now means they can take anyone wanting to leave or return to the barge between 11pm and 7am to/from the Port gate.  

Voluntary Services

Key to mental and physical well-being is having your physical, emotional and spiritual needs met.  Some of the additional funding provided by the Home Office is being used by Dorset Council to engage with the local voluntary and community sector, to provide activities for the asylum seekers, and to provide them with volunteering opportunities.

Aside from the direct benefits to the asylum seekers of keeping occupied, the more contact there can be between those on the barge and the community, will be good for community cohesion and reducing anxiety within the community.

English-language classes have already started, and a range of other sporting and cultural activities, as well as training and skills development, are being actively developed by Dorset Council.  A large number of volunteers have already signed-up to help, and a Volunteer Co-ordinator is being recruited. 

Comms & Engagement

We will be reviewing communications and engagement, particularly in terms of quelling rumours in a timely fashion, and this will be actively taken forward by the MAF, led by the Comms sub group.  However, it also became apparent in the meetings with councillors that there was already a substantial amount of information in the public domain – but it was not reaching the public.  This is a key issue to address – how do we enhance the circulation of information through local channels which local people use.  You might be able to help.  We issue the MAF Update almost weekly – do you share it with other people in your networks?  If not, please feel free to share this as widely as possible.  Further information is available at Portland Port: factsheet – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If you would like your interests… published, submit via https://dorseteye.com/submit-a-report/

Join us in helping to bring reality and decency back by SUBSCRIBING to our Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQ1Ll1ylCg8U19AhNl-NoTg SUPPORTING US where you can: Award Winning Independent Citizen Media Needs Your Help. PLEASE SUPPORT US FOR JUST £2 A MONTH https://dorseteye.com/donate/

To report this post you need to login first.
Previous articleDorset Live to shut down as publisher slashes jobs
Next articleCouple convicted after selling counterfeit goods at Dorset Steam Fair
Dorset Eye
Dorset Eye is an independent not for profit news website built to empower all people to have a voice. To be sustainable Dorset Eye needs your support. Please help us to deliver independent citizen news... by clicking the link below and contributing. Your support means everything for the future of Dorset Eye. Thank you.