Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-87)


27 FEBRUARY 2008

  Q80  Mr Betts: On the issue of community cohesion, many migrants, and the most recent migrants are probably the same, tend to move into relatively poor neighbourhoods, but, despite that, there are still significant differences between the income levels of the new migrants, their employment levels, their skill levels, their educational achievement. With all those differences, can you really get community cohesion?

  Mr Cantle: I do not think you can get community cohesion unless you tackle the basic inequalities at the same time. At the moment there are a number of groups, particularly Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, in the labour market, particularly women, who are very, very disadvantaged compared with other groups. That is also true, of course, in respect of some of the different black groups and white working-class groups in some areas as well. I do not think it is possible to have cohesion where you have got such a stark set of differences between people competing in the same area. Part of cohesion and part of the original definition of cohesion was to tackle inequalities at the same time, and it has to be done in order to bridge some of those gaps. I do not see them as being two different things. Of course, if you do tackle some of the inequalities, then the chances are that people are going to end up in the same workplace and are going to interact with each other. They are going to end up at universities and in schools in order to interact. The process of measuring inequalities means that you are also maximising the opportunities for people to relate to each other as well on an equal footing.

  Q81  Mr Betts: Is there not one potential pitfall in this, and certainly I came across it in my own constituency where we have a number of Slovakian migrants who have moved in who actually—I am generalising here—unlike most of the Poles, are probably here as individuals to send money back and probably will go back themselves at some point. Slovakians arrive with these extended families because Roma face persecution in Slovakia, that is one of the reasons they come. They clearly are getting some pretty poor housing, often overcrowded. There is a particular need to address that issue, particularly the deprivation and housing amongst that community. You create a scheme, therefore, to address it and you forget there are actually still quite a few white indigenous families who live in equally bad housing. That is what you have got to be careful of, that in trying to focus on some of the obvious inequalities you forget some people who might be left on one side.

  Mr Cantle: I think that is absolutely right, and it goes back to this whole point about single group funding. The issue here is to focus on the need, and if the need is in one particular community, then that should be addressed, but I think you should go out of your way to make sure that where (maybe not on the same scale) a need exists in other communities, you actually try to deal with those at the same time. Otherwise you will get accusations of unfairness and there will be competition between communities. I think that is absolutely the case, and single group funding in the past probably has exacerbated some of those tensions.

  Q82  Mr Betts: Coming back to what the Government can do to help, speaking to the Head of Tinsley Junior School in my constituency, where there are about 30 kids from Slovakian families, she was saying, "While we have got children who do not speak English terribly well from the Kashmiri community, the children come and they will tend, by and large, to stay with the school and, therefore, we can adopt a planned approach to try and assist them with their language; but where I have got 30 children from Slovakian families, the next month I will have 30 children but they will not be the same children." How can we target our funding and deal with it in such a way that addresses that sort of population churn, which is a real issue and says something about the very newest migrants that we have?

  Mr Cantle: I was listening to the debate earlier about funding, and one of the dimensions which was perhaps missed out of that was the need to reflect population churn within the funding formulas. It is not just about numbers, it is about population churn, and that is a key issue in funding which is completely neglected at the moment. There are two ways in which those sorts of issues which you raise are being addressed by local authorities. One is to let the schools deal with it on an individual basis, each coping with a number of Slovakian or Roma children or groups from other countries, and the other is to create some sort of local authority-wide assessment centre. This has been done in a number of local areas, where the children from those different communities start off in those assessment centres, they are turbo-charged through English language, they are assessed for any special needs that they have and then fed back into the schools at a point where they perhaps become slightly more competent and able to deal with some of the things which they will face. I think at the moment local authorities are undecided about whether to work in those families of schools and across the piece or whether to leave it to individual schools to sort out. I feel that probably the best way is to deal with it collectively.

  Q83  Mr Betts: At this stage it is said that it was given no help at all, as I understand it, not specifically.

  Mr Cantle: Again, you heard about the money given for cohesion. There is a certain amount of money that comes through the EMEG formula anyway, which is a long-standing formula. Schools do have certain other funds available to them, but the general point is right: there is no specific funding which copes with that. Nevertheless, some local authorities have decided that they are going to go for some sort of centralised system of assessment and then pass those children out into schools rather than simply let them go into schools in the first instance.

  Mr Johnson: A general point in terms of the Commission integrating Egan's recommendations (a very positive step), the Government has endorsed that a lot of them do come with a cost and funding is not always attached to them.

  Q84  Chair: On that, do you think the Government should take up the CIC suggestion to establish a national body overseeing migration, and, if you do, do you agree with the point that was put forward by Trevor Phillips? Were you here at the beginning?

  Mr Johnson: Yes.

  Q85  Chair: He seemed to be suggesting that migrants should not be left to go where the jobs are but should be positively directed at certain bits of the country, though how exactly you are going to do that, I do not know.

  Mr Cantle: I think there is a danger in setting up another agency within the auspices of government. At the moment a lot of the integration activities are left to the local level, they are left to local authorities and their partners to handle, and I feel, almost irrespective of whether some sort of national agency was established, it would inevitably fall on local authorities. Every situation is very different, and I would be worried about some sort of one-size-fits-all type of approach to that. I think in the end local authorities, health authorities, police authorities, all the other agencies have to work together and sort out their own integration issues. There has been a big focus on migrants today, but actually cohesion issues are not just about migrant communities, there are a lot of long-standing rivalries and differences between generations, and so on, which local authorities are also working on. In Brighton the identifiable gay community has been subject to homophobic violence and the authority there are working on cohesion programmes in respect of that community. I think letting local authorities focus on their local issues is crucial, and I think some national advice and support is inevitable, but a one-size-fits-all approach would be, I think, pretty well untenable.

  Mr Johnson: I think, undoubtedly, there is a need for better co-ordination at a national level of policies in this area, be it funding in numbers, English language provision, joining up the work of various different government departments on this who do not always talk to one another and do not always seem to be consistent with policies, is definitely needed.

  Q86  Chair: Would you like to give a concrete example of where they do not seem to be consistent?

  Mr Johnson: I think the decision on ESOL funding was a case in point, where you had some departments talking about the need for greater English language provision while at the same time the DfES, as it was then, was cutting funding on programmes on English language. That has now been reversed, but I think that showed just the sort of poor quality of joined-up government on this.

  Q87  Chair: Finally, to what extent do you think the Government's performance indicators on cohesion are useful?

  Mr Cantle: They are useful. There is no doubt that the indicator, which is how well people get on with others of different backgrounds, is an indicator of sorts, and certainly the ones that have the lowest scores, we tend to agree, probably have got the biggest problems, and often there is a coincidence of those low scores with the activity of the BNP and the far right in those areas, so there is some consistency in that approach. I am pleased that the Government is introducing new indicators in respect of interaction, particularly because that is actually about asking people and measuring the extent to which there is some cross-community activity. I think it is essential that that is introduced; a sense of belonging I think would also be useful. We tend to look at both hard and soft indicators—the hard indicators being about the incidence of race-hate crime or homophobic crime, the extent of inequalities and the soft indicators which are more perceptual—but, most of all, we encourage local authorities and their partners to keep an on-going framework for this where they are constantly measuring the tensions in their communities and they are trying to anticipate the tensions and the difficulties. We are firmly of the view that tensions like the Lozells Riots could have been avoided if there had been much better early-warning systems, much greater intelligence gathering and sharing between different agencies. I think, in the end, the performance indicators are fine, but actually it does mean that local authorities and their partners have to work much more carefully together and to see their role as not simply service deliverers, which is, of course, where perhaps local government has focused in the past, but responsible for anticipating and understanding tensions and mapping population change. It is a much more sophisticated approach to what goes on at the local level than some of the service delivery styles in the past.

  Mr Johnson: It is the measuring and interaction points that are particularly important. I think we would share some of Trevor's concerns about too much funding being allocated purely on the perception indicators. I think issues such as the school issue and intake of schools should be measured as part of a cohesion indicator across education service delivery rather than just issues that relate purely to cohesion initiatives.

  Chair: Thank you very much indeed.

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