Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
27 FEBRUARY 2008
Q40 John Cummings: I understand what
you are saying. What I am trying to boil it down to is that whilst
you can identify 400 immigrants who are causing perhaps problems,
who are not fitting in, could you not equally identify 400 from
the indigenous population who have been born and bred there, perhaps
have lived there for several generations, and is the same attention
not being directed towards those, and also equal resources directed
towards these problems?
Mr Blake-Herbert: Certainly in
terms of as a local authority, we have a requirement to carry
out Race Relations (Amendment) Act impact assessments on all services
that we provide, and making sure that we are providing those services
to the community. The key part there is when funding is falling,
because of inaccurate population statistics, it gets much harder
for the councillors within the borough to balance their responsibilities
to the various parts of the communities and that is what then
can raise the fears of cohesion.
Q41 Chair: Can I just briefly on
this numbers thing, we do not want to get into the detail of how
we get the numbers right, but Mr Allen from the LGA, I know we
have written evidence from the Borough of Newham and from Leicester,
both of whom are also claiming that they are undercounted. I know
Hammersmith & Fulham does, I know my own council does. Just
roughly, how widespread do you think this issue is about councils
claiming that the official estimates of population are too low,
and are there more of them than there used to be?
Mr Allen: I think the answer to
your question is yes, it is very widespread. The system simply
does not pick up on rapid population changes for two reasons:
one, we are reliant fundamentally on the 2001 census, which is
out of date, and yes, there are statistical manipulations, but
those are based by and large on very small samples, which when
you break them down to a local level simply do not work. Secondly,
there are administrative data that sort of give you an indicationGP
registers, school registers, National Insurance registrationsbut
none of those really give you a full picture. What they do tell
you, when you look at them as a diagnostic, not as an ultimate
count, it is very clear that the overall population is significantly
higher than the estimates, and part of that is because we do not
pick up on the churn. So some parts of the country exhibit rapid
churn, so people may come in for six months and leave, but they
are being replaced, so the overall population level within any
given area is actually significantly higher than the apparent
Q42 Dr Pugh: The Equality and Human
Rights Commission say that most economic migrants and refugees
live in temporary private, particularly rented accommodation.
Presumably you agree with that, yes?
Mr Blake-Herbert: Yes.
Q43 Dr Pugh: Presumably you also
agree the bulk of that is HMOs as well?
Mr Blake-Herbert: Yes.
Q44 Dr Pugh: What are the practical
difficulties facing communities where there are high numbers of
HMOs catering for the migrant population? I mean not just simply
problems it creates for the council, but problems it creates for
the wider community that may be living adjacent.
Mr Blake-Herbert: One of the key
parts there at the beginning is local authorities have a responsibility
to license three-storey houses of multiple occupation, and we
are funded appropriately to be able to do that, supposedly funded
appropriately. In terms of the key issues we are experiencing
in Slough, we do not have a large number of three-storey buildings,
so one of the things we have experienced is about two-storey HMOs,
so these are predominantly standard three-bed semi houses being
converted into HMOs which we then do not have the funding to be
able to go out and license and inspect in the way that we would
Q45 Dr Pugh: So you are seeing a
net growth of HMOs?
Mr Blake-Herbert: Indeed.
Q46 Dr Pugh: Can you put a percentage
on that, broadly speaking?
Mr Blake-Herbert: Percentage of
it in terms of housing
Q47 Dr Pugh: Not in terms of housing.
By what percentage is the HMO stock going up? 10 per cent, 20
per cent, 30 per cent?
Mr Blake-Herbert: Over 20 per
cent. In an 18-month period, we have had over 1,050 two-storey
HMOs reported to us, and they were reported to the local authority
predominantly by complaints from neighbours, so they are coming
in in that way that we are getting identified.
Q48 Dr Pugh: So probably the actual
figure is higher still because there are some you still have not
Mr Blake-Herbert: Indeed. The
members, as part of setting the council tax and the budget the
other evening, did agree to put funding available to carry out
an audit of these, because we recognise our responsibility to
need to do that and understand it. The bigger issue will be that
when we get the feedback from the audit saying there are this
many, these are the locations, how we go and address that without
having funding, because it is unscrupulous landlords making money
on the back of migrants who are prepared to pay X amount
Q49 Dr Pugh: So there is a proliferation
of unscrupulous landlords that councils are having difficulty
currently policing; is that the view from the LGA?
Mr Allen: Yes, it is, and it is
quite widespread. I would not wish to say that all landlords are
unscrupulous, there are many that are not, but there are quite
clearly records across the country of difficulties in terms of
pursuing HMOs where people are living in unsanitary conditions
and then needing to
Q50 Dr Pugh: What needs doing about
it? Does the Government need to make more money available or do
councils need to alter their priorities?
Mr Allen: I think we would have
to say that at some stage, given the scale of what we have seen
in the last few years, it has to be about funding. Where do you
cut from if you are a small council in a rural area that is dealing
with a very large influx of people that were not there four years
Mr Blake-Herbert: I think in response
to that, again it is back to we have the responsibility under
legislation to check and license those that are three-storey,
but there is no such guidance around those that are two-storey,
but it is about our responsibility to the health and well-being
of the people in those properties and the surrounding properties.
Q51 Dr Pugh: Just in terms of the
observation, in terms of general effect on the community, if you
get a proliferation of HMOs pepperpotting a particular area, where
maybe the property is more amenable to change and alteration to
HMO status, what effect does that have on the wider community?
Mr Blake-Herbert: In terms of
that, it is the health and well-being both of the individuals
in those and the individuals in surrounding properties. So, for
example, one of the key things in terms of what gets fed back
to us, in terms of complaints, is the level of refuse that is
created within those individual properties. When it is bin day
and the refuse is put out, there are large amounts out, the bins
are completely overfull, therefore the refuse teams will not collect
them because there is additional waste.
Q52 Dr Pugh: Councils need to go
Mr Blake-Herbert: Indeed.
Dr Pugh: I had an issue in my constituency
where I think an HMO populated by Somalis had a barbecue, which
is perfectly okay, the only thing is they had it in the front
garden, in the road, and all that was needed was for them to have
it explained that this was not what we did in the UK.
Q53 Chair: Can I just ask a question
of the Audit Commission about comprehensive area assessments?
Which is: if councils choose not to specify community cohesion
in their local area agreement, how are you going to assess whether
they are actually promoting community cohesion?
Mr Davies: Yes, the whole premise
of the new framework, the comprehensive area assessment framework,
is we will take more account of the priorities agreed by the local
authority and its partners with central government, rather than
impose a one size fits all assessment framework, regardless of
the priorities of the area. So the preamble to our assessment
is always to understand how that local area agreement has been
arrived at, and the quality of the analysis that has gone into
it and the basis on which those priorities have been arrived at.
So is it based on a good understanding of the community and a
good consultation with various parts of that community? So assuming
the answer to that was yes, then we are not going to second guess
the carefully arrived at local area agreement. The clear purpose
of that is to steer resources to the priorities for that place.
On the other hand, nor are we going to, as inspectorates, ignore
the impact on potentially vulnerable people who are experiencing
serious problems in an area. So if there is any evidence of that,
clearly we would want to raise it and understand how the authority
is responding, but the premise has to be that the local area agreement
is well-founded and we have therefore focused on the priorities
Mr Allen: I think two things.
One, I think I see no evidence that councils, particularly through
their LAA, will ignore serious or potentially serious cohesion
issues. Secondly, it is perhaps worth recording, you may be aware,
but it is not always clear, that the Government's 198 indicators
will all be measured and all recorded, so, if you like, those
indicators are designed to pick up information at local level,
at council level, so if cohesion is an issue and those indicators
are well chosen, there will be clear evidence as to whether councils
are tackling the problem or not.
Q54 Chair: Can I ask a further question
about funding? If a better way could be found to count how many
people there are, is it your view that the additional funding
should continue to come through the formula and, if so, how can
the formula be responsive to rapid change that is actually occurring,
given it is done over three years, or do you think that the Community
Cohesion Fund, which I guess you would want to be bigger, is the
better way of doing it, in that that could be more responsive
to rapid change?
Mr Blake-Herbert: I think it is
a combination of both. From the point of view of an authority
such as Slough, with hyper-diversity in the issues it has got,
at the moment the population statistics say our population is
falling; because the population is falling, we are losing funding
from the point that we used to be at the ceiling on local authority
funding, when ceilings existed, to the point that we are significantly
beneath the floor. With three-year settlements, it is nice to
have that understanding going forwards to know where you are going,
but not when it is based on inaccurate flawed population statistics.
The fact that we have three-year settlements means that in those
interim periods there needs to be a responsive source of funding
available for local authorities to be able to call on when they
have particular pressures.
Q55 Chair: Mr Allen?
Mr Allen: I would agree with that.
We very much welcome the £50 million cohesion funding, but
the issue is wider. We have seen a very substantial increase in
population. We applied a very cautious one per cent increase in
population, and if you apply that one per cent increase in population
to that element of local authority funding nationally that is
driven by the population formula, that is about £25 billion.
One per cent of that is about £250 million. I think that
was our suggestion for a rapid response to this increase in population.
I think long-term we have to have a system that, as Andrew says,
gives us reasonable security of funding over a period of years
because you have got to plan, but you have to have some mechanisms
to be able to respond effectively to events of the sort we have
seen in the last four years.
Mr Blake-Herbert: To go back to
the key point, whatever is made available, if it is through a
specific grant, there needs to be a proper basis of allocation.
Again, if is on a flawed basis, I would go back to the cohesion
fund and say that has not been allocated on the best basis, it
has not necessarily gone to those authorities that need it and,
therefore, again, if it is specific grant funding, there needs
to be a proper basis for allocating it.
Q56 Andrew George: Can I presume,
Mr Allen, that there is no local authority that is complaining
that there has been an overestimate of migrant population?
Mr Allen: That would be correct,
Q57 Andrew George: Can you envisage
any formula fund which would be couched in such a way as to discourage
local authorities from over inflating the migrant population?
Mr Allen: I think I would turn
that round and say that what we need is a transparent and effective
means to measure local populations and to do so quickly and currently
rather than relying on our census.
Q58 Chair: Have you got an answer
as to how you would do it?
Mr Allen: I think, in the short-term,
we will not restructure the system for collecting population statistics.
What one has got to do is to take those sets of administrative
data that give you a good diagnostic, make those transparent and
available on a consistent basis and then use those as a check
against the official national projections and, where the two are
out of kilter, that is where one would need a discussion about
Q59 Andrew George: Can I ask Mr Davies
whether you are content that the method by which migrant populations
are estimated is properly audited in order to avoid a situation
where local authorities could, in fact, inflate the figures in
order to achieve higher funding?
Mr Davies: The difficulty is that
system does not exist at the moment. I think it is widely accepted
that the current system for using population figures to determine
funding is inadequate to cope with the speed of migration and,
as we have seen, I think that is a pretty well shared view. The
question is what to do about it. One interesting question is whether
there are any local sources of income which could, in theory,
respond more rapidly to changes in local population and nationally
set targetswhether there are possibilities thereso
you are drawn to Council Tax collection from some of the properties
that we have been discussing, which is a complex area given the
nature of the tenancies, but also issues of local authority charging
for services. We have recently reported on that as a significant
source of income for local authorities and ought to figure in
the deliberations around how we generate the resources to serve
the needs of this rapidly changing population.
Mr Blake-Herbert: I was going
to say, it is right that they are calculated nationally by someone
like the Office of National Statistics, so it is not about local
authorities inflating them locally to suit their own needs, and,
to be fair, the Office of National Statistics have a very hard
job in doing that. The key part there is about looking at other
data sources that exist, even if it is to Q and A their statistics.
For example, one of the ones they will not use is child benefit
data, because they say it is a huge under count of children when,
according to the ONS, there are less children living in Slough
than the number of children being paid child benefit. So it is
about that Q and A element and trying to get that right.