I first met mad inventor John Ward around 25 years ago. Despite being admittedly eccentric, he has held down a stream of very sensible jobs. He used to work for the Barclaycard credit card company and, at one time, held a gun licence for several weapons.
I was never nervous about him working at Barclaycard.
Yesterday, he told me about something which happened almost ten years ago, when he was working at the occasionally controversial Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre for American-owned Aramark Facilities Management who had a contract with the Group 4 security company which had a six-year contract from the UK government to run the detention centre.
No government contracts are ever simple.
On February 14th 2002, Yarl’s Wood was almost entirely burned down during a riot by disgruntled detained would-like-to-have-been immigrants. It did not re-open until September 2003.
John tells me that, “one particular morning, a little while after the place had settled down to sort out the mess caused by the fire, there were phones ringing everywhere, telling people about the imminent arrival of a VIP from the Government who would be on a whistle-stop tour of the site and would we all ‘please see that everything is cleaned up spick-and-span’ for the VIP who could not be named, even to us, for security reasons.
“All the cleaning staff set-to with a vengeance and not a speck of dust could be seen after the Cleaning Manager went round everywhere with a pair of white cotton gloves on to test for any small grains of dirt which might have escaped the sudden high profile purge.
“Even though the Centre was ‘stood down’ and not operating normally due to the fire damage, cleaners still cleaned everything spotless each and every single day regardless, as the contract to do so was given by Group 4 and was still ‘active’. You literally could have eaten your dinner off the floor it was kept so clean. But it was cleaned up even cleaner than clean for this soon-to-arrive government VIP. They did not want him to see dirt anywhere.
“A short while before the VIP was due to arrive, word got round as to who it was. The reaction on the faces of the staff was something to behold.
“The visit, when it happened, took all of 12 minutes. The ministerial Jaguar sped into the Reception Area and the VIP got out with his entourage and wafted into the building and, almost as soon as the Minister arrived, he departed.”
John Ward tells me they had no feedback on what David Blunkett, the blind Home Secretary, thought of the super-clean state of the Centre and, he adds, “the comments of his guide dog were not recorded either, but I heard some of the comments of the staff who had been desperately re-cleaning everything for the visit. They were not impressed by irony.“