Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Tenth Report

4  Responding to migration locally

39.  The CIC argued that local areas have unique qualities that demand "tailored and bespoke local activity to build integration and cohesion".[93] On our visits to very different types of areas, we received a strong message from local councils that targeted responses were needed and that central government should 'let go'.[94]

Local political leadership

40.  There are many organisations involved in responding to the effects of migration at a local level. They include statutory public bodies such as primary care trusts; housing associations; voluntary sector bodies, including local community groups that support migrants; and the employers of migrant labour.

41.  Local authorities are at the frontline in responding to the effects of migration, not only because of their role in delivering services but because of their role as community leaders. Local authorities have a critical role in co-ordinating action across a complex range of bodies, particularly through their leadership role on local strategic partnerships and implementing the community strategy for their areas.

42.  A detailed understanding of local areas is a prerequisite for local leadership. The CIC recommended that all local authorities map their communities, developing local intelligence on the types of people that live across the area.[95] Local intelligence on current, and projections of future, migration flows is vital to enable local authorities to take strategic action on integration and cohesion, appropriately target activities and resources, and plan ahead. The arrival of large numbers of migrants from European Accession states appears not to have been anticipated by many of the local authorities who have received them. For all the positive recent work we saw in Peterborough, for example, we were not convinced that the local authority had responded in as timely a manner as might have been the case had it realised that the heavy dependence of their local economy on agriculture was bound to make it an attractive destination for workers from Eastern Europe; although in recent years, local intelligence on migrant worker trends in Peterborough and the surrounding areas has improved as a result of research commissioned by the East of England Development Agency.[96] In order to respond to migration effectively, it is critical that local authorities do all they can to improve their local intelligence on current and future migration flows and plan ahead.

43.  The CIC concluded that local authority leadership has a critical effect on cohesion. The type of leadership will determine whether actions are taken to promote cohesion and tackle areas of tension, and influence the attitude of partner organisations. The CIC stressed the important role of elected representatives.[97] During our visit to Barking and Dagenham we were struck by the central role of elected representatives both in responding to the effects of migration and in influencing the response of settled communities to new migrants. The Leader of Barking and Dagenham Borough Council has direct responsibility for implementation of the local authority's cohesion strategy.[98] The council's response recognises local priorities. Following wide consultation it has adopted a local definition of community cohesion to focus action on fairness, respect and safety.[99] The concentration of effort and attention on fairness is a response to significant local concern about the perceived unfair access of migrants to services. On the other hand, elected representatives can also potentially damage community relations. The CIC expressed concern that local councillors are able to make inflammatory statements that negatively affect cohesion, without any consequences.[100] Community relations can also be damaged if local political decisions are made without adequate consultation. Residents in Barking and Dagenham felt that the council had not conducted adequate consultation or provided a vision for local regeneration.[101]


44.  Local authorities can demonstrate leadership in combating local myths about migrants. These myths can be triggered by local events or situations. In Barking and Dagenham we learnt of the myth that migrants in inner-London boroughs were being offered £50,000 to move into the area. This myth had apparently arisen because of the increase in the number of black and minority ethnic families moving into the area from inner-London, owing to the ready supply of cheap private rented accommodation. We also heard that black and minority ethnic families were getting unfair priority access to social housing. It was suggested that this myth arises because these families were seen living in properties that were formerly council housing which had been purchased under the Right to Buy, but which were physically indistinguishable from social housing.

45.  The people that we met on this visit all stressed the important role for councils in myth-busting. However, they equally argued that communications from the council need to be sensitive, and go beyond simply refuting myths to understanding and addressing their root causes. Research by the IPPR indicates that people can find myth-busting patronising if it is perceived as telling people that 'we know best and you don't'. Communications also run the risk of reinforcing myths if they simply repeat them and then refute them.[102]

46.  The CIC argued that local authorities need to take preventative action to stop myths arising, particularly myths arising from competition for resources. In Burnley, we heard that many tensions had arisen because of perceptions that regeneration funding was disproportionately benefiting Asian communities.[103] Mr Rumbelow, Chief Executive of Burnley Council, acknowledged that one of the contributing factors to past tensions had been poor communication on why money was being invested in certain areas. In this case, the funding had been targeted at the most deprived neighbourhoods, which have high concentrations of Asian population.[104] Councillor Birtwistle, Leader of Burnley Council, told us that local people now understood how and why funding decisions are made because of an active effort to communicate decisions to all communities.[105] Local authorities need to have transparent decision-making, including in relation to decisions on the allocation of social housing. Councils also must communicate effectively with their local communities to prevent myths about migrants arising and spreading.

47.  The national and local media have a role in influencing people's views on migrants. In Burnley, Ms Majeed, a programme manager at a local voluntary organisation, explained that in the past the local press had contributed to the spread of rumours, but that now more positive messages were being communicated.[106] The CIC recommended that the local media be engaged in discussion about community tensions and the effect that media coverage has on local communities.[107] Through working with the local press, and broadcasters, media coverage can help to prevent and counter myths.

48.  The CIC recommended that the Government establish a national rapid rebuttal unit to counter myths about migrants. It argued that this unit should "produce training packs for local officials and councillors dealing with positive media messaging and diversity awareness".[108] This was the only CIC recommendation to be entirely rejected by the Government. The Secretary of State, Rt hon Hazel Blears MP, argued that myths needed to be rebutted locally for the responses to be meaningful.[109] We agree. Local authorities need to take the lead in countering local myths on migrants. We see no necessity for a national rapid rebuttal unit, but recommend that central Government share best practice on myth-busting and communication strategies.

Integrating migrants and the local community

49.  Migrant and settled communities have a shared responsibility for integration. Integration is necessary to ensure that migrants understand the norms and expectations of their new local communities. It is also necessary to ensure that migrants can access public services; are able to participate in local community life; and understand their rights in order to avoid exploitation, for example by unscrupulous landlords or employers. Some local authorities, such as Slough Borough Council and Peterborough City Council, have responded to migration through taking practical and innovative measures, providing information to new arrivals and the settled community, integrating migrant children into schools and the local community. The case study below outlines an example of best practice in welcoming new arrivals.
The New Link Centre, in Peterborough, has been established by the local council as a 'one-stop shop' for new arrivals. It delivers a range of services including the provision of information and advice, employment support and training to new arrivals. The centre is based in an area where many new arrivals live. It works closely with the settled community to promote cohesion. For example, courses are provided to the settled community to help develop cultural awareness about migrants and 'myth-bust', and community events are organised. When new arrivals first go to the centre a range of personal details are recorded on areas such as health, employment, housing, and whether they have children. These details are then passed on to the relevant agencies, such as schools. The data are used to help plan services, help migrants to integrate into the local community, and to utilise the skills that migrants bring with them: for example, their language skills can be used to assist with translation.[110]

50.  One means of providing information to new arrivals is through the establishment of a welcome centre, like the New Link Centre described above. Lord Goldsmith, in his report to Government Citizenship: Our Common Bond, called for the Government to consider "whether new migrants should be required, as a condition of receiving a National Insurance number, to register with a local welcome centre".[111] He argues that this would increase the proportion of new migrants who receive information about their local community. He noted that the New Link Centre had only been able to reach 20 per cent of those new migrants who registered for a National Insurance card.[112]

51.  In Barking and Dagenham, it was stressed that local communities and authorities need the flexibility to develop appropriate local responses to migration. Their area did not have a welcome centre but new arrivals were being given information about the local area through other means.[113] Darra Singh, Chair of the CIC, did not agree that the Government should necessarily fund welcome centres, or any single initiative.[114] Requiring every local authority to have a welcome centre goes against the spirit of the CIC's report, which stresses the need for locally targeted responses to cohesion and migration. It would also be disproportionate, as not all areas experience high numbers of new arrivals.

52.  Another means of providing information about the local community to new arrivals is the distribution of a 'welcome pack'. Many local authorities have produced welcome packs containing information about services and expectations. This can be a useful means of avoiding unnecessary conflict. For example, one of the frequently cited public concerns about migrants is that they leave rubbish piling up outside their properties. The simple preventative solution is for migrants to be given information on how the local rubbish collection system works. The Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) has produced, with the support of CLG, a guide to local authorities on producing welcome packs. This implements the CIC's recommendation for national guidance to be provided on the production of such packs.[115]

53.  The Educational Assessment Centre in Slough is a further example of an innovative and practical solution that responds to migration.

The Slough Assessment Centre has been established by Slough Borough Council. It enables a detailed assessment to be made of migrant children's educational and welfare needs prior to starting school. It caters for all newly arrived secondary school pupils without school records who attend during the summer holidays. The centre provides support to newly arrived parents to support the full integration of the children.[116]

54.  Slough Borough Council stated that it is not aware of anyone else offering such a service and suggested that other areas could benefit from adopting such an approach.[117] It is undoubtedly true that many areas could benefit from such an approach and that awareness of such best practice examples needs to be spread. However, Slough's solution may not be appropriate in all circumstances. Local authorities need the freedom to develop local responses to migration; a one-size-fits-all solution is not appropriate. The Government should encourage local authorities to learn from each other, particularly where there are examples of innovative solutions to migration, such as establishing educational assessment centres and local welcome centres for new arrivals.

Promoting contact

55.  Voluntary organisations have an important role in promoting community cohesion. Activities that facilitate contact between people from different backgrounds are often delivered by the voluntary sector. The aim of such activities is to increase understanding and foster trust. One of the Government's three performance indicators on cohesion is "the percentage of people who have meaningful interactions with people from different backgrounds".[118]

56.  Sarah Spencer, Associate Director and Programme Head of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), informed us that a recent study found that one in four Eastern European migrants had no social contact with British people after living in the country for two years.[119] Lack of contact between people of different backgrounds can be compounded by residential segregation with people leading parallel lives. There are different views on the extent to which people from different background live parallel lives, and the extent to which this is a problem. In Burnley, we heard from Ms Majeed who argued that there is residential segregation of Asian and white communities, but that people interacted in other spheres of their lives: "it is not the case that in the supermarket there is an aisle for Asians and an aisle for everyone else".[120] She also pointed out that the reasons why people live in certain areas are often about positive lifestyle choices, rather than based on any desire to live separately:

If people choose to live in a certain part of the area because there is a higher percentage of Asians, it is probably because it is convenient for them. The shops are close by, the mosques are close by and the schools are close by. It is a lot about convenience and the feeling that they want to live close to family members.[121]

The Leader of Burnley Council acknowledged that locally people lived parallel lives, but stated that "provided at the end of the day the parallel lives meet and create some cohesion as and when it is required then I feel it is fine".[122]

57.  Professor Cantle agreed that there is a risk of focusing too much attention on residential segregation and argued that the "real problem is when physical segregation is compounded by segregation in education, the workplace, in social, cultural and other spheres".[123] His report into the disturbances in northern towns in the summer 2001, including Burnley, concluded that one of the main causes of the conflict was the segregation of Asian and white communities.[124] The Institute of Community Cohesion argued that breaking down structural segregation in housing, schooling, and employment is necessary to ensure the effective integration of migrants.[125]

58.  The ethnic segregation of children in schools is a particular issue of concern.[126] Professor Cantle, in a recent publication by the Smith Institute, has pointed out that evidence has begun to emerge which shows that on average ethnic segregation in schools is greater than it is in the surrounding school neighbourhood.[127] He also outlined ways in which ethnic segregation in schools can be broken down: through the twinning of schools with different ethnic profiles and joint working with students and their parents across schools. The Government's capital investment programme in schools, Building Schools for the Future, presents an opportunity to promote cohesion. In Oldham, for example, a multi-faith academy has been proposed.[128] We recommend that the Government monitor the extend to which schools are more ethnically segregated than the communities they serve.

59.  In evidence to us, Professor Cantle nevertheless stressed that any attempt at forcing integration, such as bussing children to schools in different areas, could be counter-productive.[129] Witnesses argued for more voluntary opportunities to be provided to promote meaningful interaction between people from different backgrounds, rather than any forced means of integration.[130] Ms Majeed argued that community development work is important in creating opportunities for interaction, but stressed the need for this interaction to be meaningful rather than an approach she characterised as "Let's sit down and have samosas".[131] The IPPR's research supports the view that contact needs to be meaningful to be effective in promoting community cohesion. Its report on cohesion in London commented that contact does not always reduce prejudice, for instance where contact is based around one-off events, without enabling people to have the chance to get to know each other.[132] Integration should not be forced; rather, opportunities to promote sustained and meaningful interaction between people from different backgrounds should be encouraged, for example through encouraging participation in community groups around issues of common concern.

60.  There are many different focuses of work promoting contact. Many faith organisations are involved in community work. Where faith communities promote understanding between people of different faiths this can be a positive force in promoting community cohesion. For example, in Burnley we visited a faith centre which caters for people of all faiths. The centre hosts faith events throughout the year which deliberately involve people of all religions: for instance, an event celebrating Ramadan attracted 70 people, 50 of who were non-Muslims.[133]

61.  Another strand of work in promoting contact is focused on resolving conflict. In Peterborough we learnt about the 'linking communities' project, which aims to resolve neighbourhood disputes between migrants and the settled community. A number of local migrants had been trained to act as community facilitators to mediate in disputes. For example, if a complaint was reported about a Polish family not putting out their rubbish, a Polish mediator might liaise with the family and explain the rubbish system.[134] The Building Bridges programme, in Burnley, brings people together from different backgrounds to talk about issues of common concern. We were told that one of the core aspects of their work was in reaching out to people who were not the 'usual suspects'.[135] Mr Rochester, a member of a residents' association in Burnley, pointed out that often it is only the "same old faces" that you see interacting between Asian and white communities.[136] To promote cohesion effectively, all activity that promotes contact between people of different backgrounds should reach out as widely as possible to people who are not normally involved in community initiatives.

Supporting the whole community

62.  As well as work deliberately designed to promote contact between people of different backgrounds, general voluntary activity that promotes civic participation—involvement in public life—can be of equal importance for community cohesion. One of the Government's three measures of cohesion is "the percentage of people who feel that they belong in their neighbourhood".[137] A sense of belonging to local neighbourhoods can be increased through participation in community life. Community groups, such as residents' associations, have an important role in bringing people from different backgrounds together, often on issues of local concern, for instance anti-social behaviour. Involvement in such groups can facilitate meaningful and sustained contact. The residents' groups that we spoke to stressed the need for greater support for their work. Mr Bone, a member of a residents' group in Burnley, argued that the Government needed to trust community groups and give flexible funding.[138]

63.  Despite the good work being undertaken by community groups such as residents' associations, witnesses reported the limited involvement of recent migrants. Ms Spencer argued that there were barriers to migrants actively participating in community life owing to the nature of the work migrants were employed in (long hours, low pay and shift work).[139] A representative from a residents' association that we met in Barking and Dagenham stated that it wished to involve more black and ethnic minority residents in their work, but that this was proving difficult as very few volunteered.[140] A Joseph Rowntree-funded study of the experiences of Eastern European migrants found low levels of community participation. Their sample group of migrants were less than half as likely to volunteer locally than the UK population.[141] Fewer than 25 per cent of the migrants interviewed felt that they could influence local decisions, in comparison to the national average of 38 per cent.[142] The study also found that new migrants had significantly lower attachment to their local neighbourhood than settled residents. While a sense of belonging and participation in local community life may increase with length of stay, a significant increase in attachment to the local area is unlikely to occur without new arrivals being encouraged to be involved in the local community. Community groups, such as residents' associations, have an important role in promoting community cohesion and participation in community life. Local authorities should encourage community groups to involve migrants in their organisations.

64.  The Government has a commitment to empowering communities and is expected to publish a White Paper on empowerment in summer 2008. A recent independent study of community participation, by the Research team on Governance and Diversity at Goldsmiths, University of London, concluded that the Government's policy on community empowerment has developed in parallel to its agenda on community cohesion, and argues that there is an urgent need for the two agendas to be drawn together.[143] We recommend that the Government ensure that its work on community empowerment, and the development of a Community Empowerment Bill, include measures to encourage the participation of migrants in civic life.

Single identity groups

65.  An issue of recent contention has been the public funding of single identity groups—groups formed on the basis of a particular identity, such as ethnicity or religion. The CIC concluded that there should be a presumption against funding single identity groups. The rationale for this is that funding single identity groups does not necessarily help cohesion, but rather can negatively affect it by reinforcing difference between groups. The CIC made three recommendations on single group funding: first, that if single identity group funding is provided, the reasons for the award need to be clearly publicised to all communities in the local area; secondly, that such groups need to take steps to be more outward-facing; and thirdly, that CLG should issue guidance to grant-making bodies on the appropriateness of single identity group funding.[144] On our visit to Barking and Dagenham, a resident argued that general community groups, such as residents' associations, were disadvantaged by the focus of funding on single identity groups.[145]

66.  On the other hand, Ms Seabrooke, Chief Executive of CDF, expressed concern about the CIC's recommendations. She argued that single identity groups can support cohesion and feared that funding to marginalised groups could be reduced because of the CIC's recommendation.[146] Ms Bowles, also from the CDF, suggested that the term 'single identity groups' can be misleading, as it implies only one identity. She explained that the term can be problematic if it is interpreted by funders, such as local authorities, as referring to a wide range of groups whose participants may have multiple identities. For example, if an Asian women's group is perceived as being a 'single identity group' then funding could be threatened; yet this group could comprise women from different nationalities, religions and backgrounds.[147]

67.  In response to the CIC's recommendations on single identity group funding, the Government has issued draft guidance which calls on funders to "look for opportunities to maximise" interaction between people of different backgrounds and consider how activities will promote community cohesion in their consideration of funding decisions.[148] The guidance nevertheless recognises that in some circumstances single identity group funding may be appropriate. The Secretary of State explained in a letter of response to the Chair of the CIC why such funding may be justified: "new migrant groups, for example, may find the support of other new migrants essential to acclimatising to their life in the UK".[149]

68.  Focusing funding on activities that bring people of different backgrounds together benefits the whole community, including migrants. On our visit to Barking and Dagenham migrants stressed the importance of opportunities to mix with the settled indigenous population. One participant remarked that she did not want her daughter to grow up only speaking to people of her own nationality. Funders should expect community groups to look for opportunities to maximise interaction between people of different backgrounds. Where funding is granted to single identity groups, the criteria against which funding is awarded need to be clearly publicised to all communities in the local area.

Local authority performance

69.  The Audit Commission found that "in general, councils' approach to community cohesion is not well developed […] Strategy was a particularly weak area, with individual council work on community cohesion often not part of a wider strategic framework".[150] A further criticism made was that "a number of councils still do not have an overarching strategy, resulting in uncoordinated or untargeted activity".[151] Mr Davies, from the Audit Commission, qualified these statements in oral evidence, remarking:

it is clearly those parts of the country where this [migration] is a newer phenomenon where they [councils] are much more challenged by this and do not have the existing depth of skills and capacity to deal with it.[152]

He also commented that the support provided to councils by the local government sector was "dramatically better" than it was several years ago.[153] The LGA and IDeA have provided a range of best practice materials to promote cohesion and the integration of migrants. Professor Cantle described community cohesion work as "fairly new", and stated that "over 200 local authorities now have dedicated staff for community cohesion […and that] there are now dedicated action plans and performance frameworks in place".[154]

70.  The new performance framework for local government, the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA), comes into force in April 2009 and will take into account community cohesion. Local authorities will be assessed primarily against locally selected targets from a set of 198 national performance indicators. Two out of the 198 indicators are on community cohesion. The Minister of State, Rt hon Hazel Blears MP, informed us an expected 85 local authorities would include community cohesion as priority local targets.[155] The inclusion of community cohesion in the local government performance framework was recommended by our predecessor Committee in its report on social cohesion in 2004.[156] We welcome the inclusion of community cohesion within the Comprehensive Area Assessment. This will be useful in encouraging local authorities actively to promote community cohesion and respond to migration, particularly in areas where there are tensions.

93   Our Shared Future, p 4. Back

94   Annex  Back

95   Our Shared Future, para 4.24. Back

96   Ev 163 Back

97   Our Shared Future, para 4.30. Back

98   IPPR, One London? Change and Cohesion in three London boroughs, March 2008, p 20. Back

99   Annex  Back

100   Our Shared Future, para 4.33. Back

101   Annex Back

102   IPPR, One London? Change and Cohesion in three London boroughs, March 2008, p 20. Back

103   Q 103 Back

104   Q 119 Back

105   Q 121 Back

106   Q 93-94, Q 102. Back

107   Our Shared Future, para 7.22. Back

108   Our Shared Future, para 7.29. Back

109   Q 248 Back

110   Annex  Back

111   Lord Goldsmith QC, Citizenship: Our Common Bond, March 2008, p 114-115. Back

112   Lord Goldsmith QC, Citizenship: Our Common Bond, March 2008, p 114-115. Back

113   Annex  Back

114   Q 152 Back

115   Communities and Local Government, The Government's Response to the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, February 2008, p 41. Back

116   Ev 150 Back

117   Ev 150 Back

118   Ev 86 Back

119   Q 175 Back

120   Q 90 Back

121   Q 90 Back

122   Q 125 Back

123   Q 63 Back

124   The Cantle Report, Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team, December 2001. Back

125   Ev 124 Back

126   Annex Back

127   The Smith Institute, Citizenship, cohesion and solidarity, June 2008, p 13. Back

128   Q 64 Back

129   Q 63 Back

130   Annex Back

131   Q 95 Back

132   IPPR, One London? Change and Cohesion in three London boroughs, March 2008, p 12. Back

133   Annex  Back

134   Annex  Back

135   Annex  Back

136   Q 110 Back

137   Ev 86 Back

138   Q 117 Back

139   Q 184 Back

140   Annex  Back

141   Markova, E and Black, R, New Eastern Immigrants and Social Cohesion, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, May 2007. Back

142   ibid. See also Communities and Local Government, Citizenship Survey, April-September 2007, England and Wales. Back

143   Ev 112 Back

144   Our Shared Future, Annex D: The question of Single Group Funding. Back

145   Annex Back

146   Q 226 Back

147   Q 228 Back

148   Communities and Local Government, Cohesion Guidance for Funders, February 2008, Foreword. Back

149   Communities and Local Government, Letter from Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to Darra Singh, Chair of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, 6 October 2007. Back

150   Ev 66 Back

151   Ev 67 Back

152   Q 27 Back

153   Q 28 Back

154   Q 62 Back

155   Q 256 Back

156   ODPM Select Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, Social Cohesion, HC 45, para 28. Back

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