Examination of Witnesses (Questions 26-39)|
27 FEBRUARY 2008
Q26 Chair: Can I ask the three of you
to say who you are and which of the three organisations you are
Mr Blake-Herbert: I am Andrew
Blake-Herbert, I am the director of resources from Slough Borough
Mr Davies: I am Gareth Davies,
I am the Audit Commission's managing director for local government.
Mr Allen: I am Tim Allen, from
the Local Government Association, in charge of analysis and research.
Chair: Jim, do you want to start? Can
I just say, before Mr Dobbin asks this question, do not all three
feel obliged to answer every question, in fact please do not,
and I will try and make sure you all get a reasonably good go
Q27 Jim Dobbin: Thanks very much,
Chair. The Audit Commission has been quite critical of local government,
basically because they say that many local authorities do not
have a proper strategy for coping with community cohesion. Could
you enlighten us as to what you think is wrong?
Mr Davies: What we have tried
to explain is we think there is a wide diversity of practice amongst
local authorities, and we are particularly drawing there on our
corporate assessments of councils. We are in the middle of a three-year
programme of those assessments, and they have shown that wide
range of performance on cohesion. In some ways, that is understandable.
The strongest performers on having a clear strategy around this
are those that have been dealing with this issue in different
forms for a long time, so waves of new migrants are less of a
challenge to an authority that has developed resilience and a
capacity to handle these issues over a period. It is clearly those
parts of the country where this is a newer phenomenon where they
are much more challenged by this and do not have the existing
depth of skills and capacity to deal with it.
Q28 Jim Dobbin: There are examples
in some authorities, for example in Slough, and in Peterborough,
where we visited, of good practice. How slow do you think local
authorities are to learn from each other?
Mr Davies: Again from the Commission's
perspective, we think that picture is changing rapidly. The amount
of support that local government as a sector is now providing
to authorities as individual councils is dramatically better than
it was several years ago, and so the Local Government Association
and the IDeA have a significant programme around this topic, which
is already, you know, making a visible difference.
Q29 Jim Dobbin: I live in Rochdale,
which is between Oldham and Burnley. They have had problems in
Burnley, but it has been fairly cohesive in Rochdale.
Mr Davies: It is worth looking
at some of the individual reports that I mentioned. One recently
published has one of the strongest performances on community cohesion
is Kirklees, for example, which is another very diverse area with
a long history of coping with change, so it is certainly not possible
to extrapolate from the demographic make-up of an area to its
performance on community cohesion. We see areas with very similar
demographics achieving quite different levels of performance.
Q30 Chair: Mr Allen, I do not know
if you want to comment on that?
Mr Allen: Thank you. Whilst I
would accept the Audit Commission's evidence that councils have
had to react to a very rapidly changing position, some of the
evidence quoted is two or three years old. We are talking about
a phenomenon, for those councils that have not previously experienced
migration, which actually has happened over that three or four
years, so I think what you see is a pattern of councils responding,
and I think responding very successfully, to significant population
changes in areas that have not previously experienced population
change, or not at least in recent history. I think what is becoming
evident, and is becoming evident to those councils, is that as
this is not a transient experience, we are having to move from
a position of reacting and responding to the immediacy of significant
churn in the schools, often young children arriving with limited
skills mid-term, to the more strategic and longer term implications,
for example you may serve HMOs on sub-standard housing, but actually,
that displaces people who may now need housing one way or another.
Now we have a more strategic approach that is needed, and that,
I think, is now where councils are beginning to respond, and beginning
to think about how you tackle those issues, and what the implications
Chair: Anne, I think this may be a question
Q31 Anne Main: I would like to start
with Mr Blake-Herbert, please. When we visited Peterborough, one
of the things that came over loud and clear was not so much having
ethnic minority communities coming in, but it was the speed and
pace at which they were coming in which left many areas of the
local council struggling to keep up with that pace of change,
and I just wonder what Slough's view is, because you have had
a transition from quite a settled ethnic minority community to
a slightly more churned one.
Mr Blake-Herbert: It is not just
the scale or the speed of it that is also part of the issue, it
is the fact that this wave of migration, unlike those in the pastit
is the inability of statistics to keep up with the figures and
the bigger impact that that has for local authorities, in terms
of the certainty we have in terms of the numbers so we are able
to plan services appropriately, not only for the new migrants,
but also for the current indigenous population; also in terms
of the impact that has on funding. So when councillors are making
decisions about local services and what to provide, they are able
to support people in the right way.
Q32 Anne Main: Do you feel the Government
is not sympathetic to what you have just said, in terms of being
able to extrapolate for future needs, rather than looking back
on probably census data that may well be quite out of date, from
what you have said?
Mr Blake-Herbert: Certainly in
terms of Slough, we have been pushing our campaign for a number
of years now, in terms of the figures and the inaccuracies in
the statistics. That does have a real impact in terms of services
locally, and I think it is well recognised by cohesion experts
that when different communities seem to be vying for limited resources,
that you can have cohesion issues arise.
Q33 Anne Main: Are you seeing that
Mr Blake-Herbert: Certainly in
terms of the work we are doing. We have an established community,
they are very well integrated, in terms of living and working
together and socialising together, but we are watching it very
closely, and one of the things, in terms of the work we have done,
we have carried out a fair bit of cohesion work within the borough,
and it is not just white communities that are seeing it, it is
also existing BME communities that are beginning to raise issues
about cohesion that are coming forward and we are having to manage
that very closely.
Q34 Anne Main: What particular issues
are they raising as a result of this rapid pace of change, just
Mr Blake-Herbert: It is the rapid
pace of change.
Q35 Chair: What particular services,
I think is what we are trying to get a handle on.
Mr Blake-Herbert: In terms of
real services for the borough, it is around schooling and the
impact on schooling; it is around housing, in particular for Slough
around the number of houses in multiple occupation which are two-storey,
not three-storey, or sheds with beds, which is also a phenomenon
which is springing up across the borough, but it is also about
skills. Slough has one of the lowest wage rates in the south-east
of England, we have the lowest skills base in the south-east of
England, this has had an impact in terms of people's employment,
but it also has an impact for the authority when we have limited
resources, because the figures say the population is falling,
and therefore the local authority's funding is falling. For Members
to balance that, is it about ESL classes and supporting new migrants
who cannot speak English, or is it about getting the skills up
in parts of our community which are low-skilled, like the Pakistani
part of our community, to get people into employment? We have
to balance that very closely.
Chair: I am sure you are aware, Mr Blake-Herbert,
that the Treasury Select Committee is doing an inquiry about the
numbers issue, so we are not actually getting into that, and I
know that John wants to ask questions about HMOs, so if we could
keep off that aspect.
Q36 Mr Hands: I just want to come
in very quickly, because we might be missing something here. You
are quite right, our inquiry is not about numbers, but are there
any cohesion issues relating to numbers? In Hammersmith &
Fulham, we have the same problem that Slough has, and quite often,
there will be groups or communities lobbying on the basis that
they think they have more numbers than the official numbers actually
suggest, and that in itself causes cohesion issues relating to
the counting of population. Is that something you are seeing as
Mr Blake-Herbert: It is something
we are seeing. It is either because we have been quite public
about our campaign in trying to get the right resources to the
borough that it should be getting to support both new migrants
and the current indigenous population, that is something we are
watching very closely, but it is something we are trying to manage
as part of both working with those communities very closely, working
with our business community in the same way, so we are able to
support that and try and prevent that happening.
Chair: John Cummings, and then I will
come back to you.
Q37 John Cummings: Are you suggesting
that perhaps we have two policies here, one for the problems in
relation to migrants and social cohesion, but there is also the
problem with our indigenous population who are running around
without any form of respect towards their peers, towards their
local authorities, towards their services?
Mr Blake-Herbert: I do not think
I am suggesting that directly. I think what I would say, it is
back to the immigration versus migration question from earlier.
From our point of view, it does not matter whether someone comes
from Putney or from Poland into the borough, if official statistics
are not keeping pace with that to be able to tell us about the
numbers of people who are coming, and therefore we have not got
the funding to be able to support people, that is the key issue
in terms of delivering cohesion at a local level.
Q38 John Cummings: Do you think that
local authorities are applying equality across the board here,
in relation to the resources that appear to be directed towards
the problems caused through immigrants and the problems that have
existed with our communities for a great number of years now with
our indigenous youth?
Mr Blake-Herbert: In terms of
it from a local authority's point of view, new migrants, when
they arrive in the country, are not entitled to claim benefits
in the same way for a period of twelve months until they have
been in the country and worked. In terms of the council's policies,
we obviously have to support all of the communities that live
within our boroughs in the right way. Some of that is about specialist
services, but for somewhere like Slough, where we have been managing
migration for a very long period of time, most of those services
are now generic across the varying different communities that
live within our boroughs. However, there are times when we do
have to respond to new migration communities in a very different
way, and for example, it is one of the things we have seen in
Slough, between January and April 2007, we had 400 Romanian Roma
arrive in the borough, and they brought with them a very specific
requirement, in terms of the local authority, around the services
we had to provide. For a change, we did have to set up a specific
team to actually be able to deal with the issues and problems
they brought to the borough.
Q39 Chair: Can you just briefly explain
what the specific need was then that was different from another
community, apart from language obviously?
Mr Blake-Herbert: The Roma community,
rather than the Romanian community, came with very different views
and opinions in terms of their background and their make-up. They
did not necessarily come to the country to work, in the way that
a lot of migrants have come to the country to work. A lot of them
had been arrested at various points in time in various parts of
London and the surrounding south-east for some small criminal
activities, and in fact we had raids in the borough by Westminster
police a few weeks ago, around looking at that, around looking
at trafficking of individuals into the country. That is something
that has caused particular issues within those communities where
they have settled and where they have based in a small group,
rather than integrating into the rest of the borough.