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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Councils - making the most of migration

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) organised a conference on sharing best practice in helping local authorities to respond positively to the arrival of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants at which Meg spoke. For further details visit: http://www.lgiu.gov.uk/index.jsp

I’d like to thank our Chair, Ed Cox, who is also a member of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion.  The Commission’s work is an important element in discussions about migration, and I will talk in more detail about it later. 

 

The positive contribution

The overall impact of migration into the UK has been a positive one.  Migrants perform key tasks in our public services; they work on our major construction sites and make a significant contribution to agriculture and tourism. There is little to suggest that wages are being held down, or that unemployment is increasing because they are here.

 

The Institute for Public Policy Research has concluded that the average migrant contributes more to the public finances - and uses less services - than individuals born here. Over a third of doctors practicing in Britain trained abroad - and workers from recent EU Accession countries currently include 12,700 carers and home care assistants, 1500 teachers, researchers and teaching assistants, 600 dental practitioners and 835 childminders. 

 

As my colleague Liam Byrne MP observed last month - “overwhelming evidence shows that migration from the countries that joined the EU in 2004 has had a positive effect on our economy”.  This is reflected by a 2005 Commission for Racial Equality poll which found that 4 out of 5 people agree that on balance, immigration has been good for Britain.

 

Dealing with difficulties

There is little evidence that migration has caused any significant additional pressure on public services at a national level, but it may well have had an impact in certain parts of the country - including areas with limited experience of dealing with immigration. This impact might be very localised and immediate, affecting only a very small part of an individual local authority.

 

People perceived to be different may well be less readily accepted by the host population. Segregated communities, for example where seasonal workers live in employer-provided accommodation, reduce opportunities for contact and allow myths to propagate. Indeed a recent survey of migrants in South Lincolnshire found that 37% reported some kind of harassment or discrimination.

 

Local authorities are best placed to understand the particular challenges their city, town or neighbourhood faces. It is only at a local level that tensions relating to migration can be felt and addressed. Only local authorities have the democratic mandate to co-ordinate differing interests, reconcile diverse views and provide the space for open debate and dialogue. 

 

Local best practice

Recent successes have been based on a number of important principles:

?        Strong leadership and engagement - making and explaining difficult decisions and answering allegations about special treatment for particular groups.

?        Developing shared values - as a basis for a future that is agreed by all the communities involved.

?        Building understanding and resilience across communities, and planning how to respond in a crisis.

?        Tackling inequalities - poor schools and health services, or a lack of skills training and employment opportunities, can cause people to lose faith in public services and corrode trust between communities.

?        Involving young people to attract them away from exploitation by extremists.

?        Partnerships with local third sector organisations. These can provide the glue that binds communities together, that creates opportunities for people of different backgrounds to work together for shared goals.

 

I welcome what local authorities are already doing, for example providing supplementary schooling for children for whom English is an additional language. Or providing innovative ways of accessing basic health care for seasonal workers. But some local areas that have seen high concentrations of migrants arrive over a short period of time may need help.

 

It’s important to share best practice between local authorities who have experience of immigration, and those for whom the experience is recent. We recently sponsored the Institute of Community Cohesion to work with a number of local authorities on community cohesion. 

 

A Government Office organised event in Leeds on 5 December will share and develop participants' information and good practice across the range of areas - the economy & labour market, engaging with migrant communities; community cohesion issues; improving service responses; press engagement & myth-busting.

 

Case study - New Link

I understand one of this afternoon’s workshops will be looking at the New Link project in Peterborough. This is creating innovative ways of supporting new immigrants. By working closely with community groups and others it seeks to promote a positive image of new arrivals among established communities. Information, advice and support on access to training or employment and translation services helps immigrants integrate into local communities. Approximately 9,000 people speaking 79 different languages have visited the centre in the past year.

 

Perceptions can become reality

People generally base what they believe on what they have experienced or heard through either hearsay or the media.  Perception can quickly become reality.  And when these beliefs start to impact negatively on individual or community relationships, this threatens community cohesion. Myths spread all too quickly - and often without distinction - about refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers.

 

We have to identify and inform people about the positive contribution migrants are making to the community and why they came to the particular local area. Building on the support of those who are already sympathetic is the place to start. But we have to get beyond the ‘usual circles’ of elected members, council officers, and community groups in order to change the perceptions of those who are more sceptical or hostile. 

 

The media can play a powerful role in influencing the perceptions of people. It can be used to successfully dispel rumours and myths and promote a positive view of diversity.

 

Promoting integration

Government takes the issue of integration seriously. We started an agenda for integration with the introduction in 2004 of a language requirement for people wanting to obtain British nationality. The second requirement, introduced a year ago, is that prospective citizens should show they know something of UK society.

 

This citizenship testing regime is something that has attracted considerable interest in other countries. Australia, for example, has recently published a public consultation on the possible introduction of a similar system there. The next phase of the strategy is the planned introduction next year of a language and citizenship knowledge requirement for people seeking permanent residence in the UK. 

 

Knowledge of English increases both employment prospects and the ease with which people can carry out their day to day life in this country. Research commissioned by the Home Office shows that your chances of getting a job are enhanced by something over 20% if you have a reasonable command of English - the standard we now require for citizenship.

 

The purpose of the citizenship element is to help those who settle in the country gain a greater appreciation of the civic and political dimensions of British citizenship. In particular, to understand the rights and responsibilities that comes with the acquisition of British citizenship.

 

Working together

My Department of Communities and Local Government has been working with the Home Office to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are housed in a way that helps local housing and community safety strategies. This framework is intended to ensure that asylum placements support the capacity of local public services and do not exacerbate community tensions. 

 

High level multi-agency meetings, known as Regional Strategic Co-ordination arrangements, are being developed in each Government Office region.  They are beginning to act as a vehicle for managing strategic risks and capitalising on the opportunities presented by the asylum process.

 

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion

This brings me to the work of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, an independent advisory body, under the chairmanship of Darra Singh. The Commission was set up to explore how different communities in England are getting along, and what more might be done to bring people together.

 

The Commission is looking at how we can build capacity within local communities to cope with anxieties that sometimes arise when communities experience rapid demographic change. It is due to report in June 2007 with a set of practical recommendations for central and local government, and is now in the process of consulting on what practical steps should be taken to make our communities more cohesive.

 

Conclusion

The meeting today is to discuss how best we can ‘make the most of’ migration. Today’s event is an important part of developing and disseminating good practice and moving the debate forward.  I look forward to hearing your views.

 

Thank you again for inviting me and I hope that you have a successful and productive conference.   


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