Two of Perth’s largest and most prominent hotels are shut for guests to accommodate dozens of refugees.
The Station Hotel and Queens Hotel, both on Leonard Street, have agreed contracts with the UK Government to house displaced persons.
Neither is accepting bookings from members of public until further notice.
According to Perth city councillor Peter Barrett, refugees staying at the hotels are all male and have been given a weekly subsistence allowance of £7 from the UK Government.
“This leaves them open to exploitation,” he told The Courier.
The hotel closures come after both were taken over this year.
The 51-bedroom Best Western Queens Hotel was purchased by the Compass Hospitality Group after being put on the market for £1.25m.
In February we reported on plans for a refurbishment of the historic building.
Seven months later The Station Hotel relaunched under the Radisson Blu brand after a £2m refurbishment.
The lobby, restaurant, function rooms and several of its 75 bedrooms had all been overhauled.
But by the end of October, The Station Hotel was reportedly cancelling bookings owing to a government contract.
A spokesperson for The Queens Hotel said: “While taking on this UK government residency contract, we will be completely closed to the public until summer 2023 – at the earliest.
“This includes the use of our restaurant, bar, and leisure facilities – with the small exception of children’s swimming lessons.”
Refugees housed earlier in the year
Lib Dem Cllr Barrett, who is also the equalities lead for the council, said both hotels were also accommodating refugees earlier in the year.
When we spoke to him this week, he was not aware that the Station Hotel was back housing new arrivals again.
“At one stage both hotels were occupied by refugees but this didn’t persist for long because of Station Hotel closing down in May and was doing a refurbishment,” he said.
“There were up to 50 men placed in the Station Hotel by Mears, the agency tasked by the UK Government with providing accommodation.
“I don’t think the accommodation is ideal but the council has worked hard and positively to try and support those who are staying here.
“Nationally there is huge pressure on accommodation with the combination of Afghan, Syrian and Ukraine refugees, as well as the UK dispersal programme.”
Council steps in to help new arrivals
He added that Perth and Kinross Council has “ensured the quality of the accommodation” and worked with St Johnstone FC to provide access to sport and leisure facilities.
Cllr Barrett said that hotel residents have also been given access to second-hand bicycles, with the council facilitating bus passes.
Perth and Kinross Association of Voluntary Services (PKAVS) has additionally provided clothing support for the new arrivals.
“They were all men,” Cllr Barrett said of the refugees at The Station Hotel earlier this year.
“I don’t think there were any families.
“When both hotels were being operated with refugees there weren’t any particular problems.
“There was maybe one incident of a football hooligan trying to cause some trouble at the Station but that was dealt with swiftly and effectively by the police.
“Other than that, I didn’t think that there had been any issues arising and I think a lot of that was down to the positive work the council did, with partners like PKAVS, to ensure that these vulnerable guys were okay.”
Used as a ‘contingency’
In 2019, Mears was awarded three government contracts to provide accommodation and support for asylum seekers.
It works as a contractor to the Home Office to place service users and support them while in accommodation.
We will arrange for our service users to move from contingency accommodation as soon as possible.
A Mears spokesperson said: “Due to the rise in the number of people seeking asylum and a shortage of suitable accommodation, hotels are being used as a contingency by the Home Office across the UK, including in Perth.
“We are working with local authorities and landlords to arrange suitable accommodation in the community but there is currently a shortage.
“We will arrange for our service users to move from contingency accommodation as soon as possible.”
The Mears spokesperson added that all hotels offer en suite rooms with TV and wi-fi access and a 24-hour reception.
“Three meals a day are provided to all services users, menus meet NHS Eat Well standards and are nutritionally balanced,” they continued.
“The support provided by the Perth and Kinross Association of Voluntary Services has been exemplary.
“Working together, we provide a programme of regular activities, including with the local football teams, library and college.”
Taxpayers’ £5.6m daily bill
A Home Office spokesperson stressed the number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached “record levels”, putting the asylum system under incredible strain.
They added: “The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6million a day.
“The use of hotels is a short-term solution and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.”