I WROTE a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair when I was 11, back in 1997, to suggest that people were wrong when they believed there was “no room” in Britain to house asylum seekers: in the innocence of my youth I pointed out that the Royal Family had a lot of palaces and land, and there would probably be quite a lot of room there.

It was so wonderfully simplistic in my mind back then, but even now I still think I had the right idea. When there are lots of vulnerable people who need help, the rich and privileged are in the best position to muck in – they’ve got plenty to go around. This was how the world was supposed to work, I thought. If nothing else, how could people be so cruel and heartless as to just stand by and watch as others lived in fear?

My pleas fell on deaf ears, of course, and here we are more than 20 years later and I’m a lot less patient with those worn-out old claims about a rich country having not enough room and not enough resources to do more to help those who need it most.

In the latest episode of cruelty on display, private company Serco has threatened to change the locks in Glasgow accommodation currently housing asylum seekers. There has been disbelief about the policy, and Glasgow City Council appears to have been taken by surprise at the sudden, aggressive approach.

Jennifer Layden, Glasgow City Council’s spokesperson on equalities, said it had been “completely blind-sided”. Serco only gave authorities a few days’ notice of the plan, and there has been panic among officials and campaigners – not to mention the abject terror asylum seekers must be feeling at the prospect.

Serco – a private contractor hired by the Government to manage housing for asylum seekers – claims that the policy applies only towards those whose asylum applications have failed, and it says that the Home Office does not fund it to continue providing housing for such individuals after that point.

At this stage I’m barely containing my fury at the nerve of a multibillion-pound company, which just happens to run a swathe of public services up and down the country on behalf of the Government – at the taxpayer’s expense – making this a question of money. The Government has outsourced an incredible amount of work to Serco, including running prisons, border security tasks, a number of transport services, facility management in our health services, and multiple contracts related to defence.

Serco is a corporate giant and it has been plagued with criticism over a string of failures and controversies. In 2017, the Paradise Papers leaks revealed that an offshore law firm found Serco to be a “high-risk” client following a risk assessment, and it had particular concerns over allegations of fraud and cover-ups, as well as its general “history of problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”.

It’s hard to overstate just how deeply embedded Serco is in how the country runs. It holds contracts for so many public services that the country would face a crisis if anything went wrong – and don’t think that it can’t: remember the collapse of Carillion? It was an outsourcing rival and Serco hoovered up a number of the contracts left hanging in the air after the company went under. The episode prompted a brief national conversation about the folly of trusting mega-money giants

with important public services, but there is no appetite for change amongst this Tory Government.

And now, here we are with the reality of Serco on our doorsteps, in our neighbourhoods. Compassion and care is not at the top of the company’s list, only money, as it’s made abundantly clear in the case of Glasgow’s asylum seekers. It’s difficult to imagine how society might improve its often poor attitudes towards these desperate and vulnerable people when our own Government outsources a service as important as housing them to a company like Serco.

Following an outcry in Scotland, Serco is apparently now considering suspension of the eviction programme, but that’s not good enough. It will simply be a matter of time before the next incident.

This action must be resisted in the strongest terms, and it’s heartening to see politicians like Scottish Labour MP Paul Sweeney invoke the spirit of legendary Glasgow rent strikes campaigner, Mary Barbour, and raise the possibility of occupations in the targeted homes to prevent evictions. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

But in the long term, the Westminster Government must take steps to dismantle its toxic association with Serco and introduce humanitarian policies which handle the management of sensitive services with the care and basic common sense that is required.

This whole sorry saga is symptomatic of the horrendous mess Britain finds itself in. For too long, public responsibilities have been offloaded to private companies to deal with (and make juicy profits from).

It has done every citizen a disservice, as well as the asylum seekers in Glasgow who must be petrified today.