Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 354 - 359)

TUESDAY 3 JUNE 2008

SIR SIMON MILTON AND MS JULIE SPENCE

  Q354  Chairman: Sir Simon and Chief Constable, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to the Select Committee today. Sir Simon, I congratulate you on your appointment as chairman of the LGA. I know that that occurred some time ago, but this is the first time you have appeared before the Committee. This Committee is conducting an inquiry into policing in the 21st century. We felt strongly that the evidence you gave not just as leader of Westminster City Council but also as chairman of the LGA would provide us with an insight into current policing priorities. This is our fifth session. As part of your role as chairman of the LGA do you believe there is a shortfall in revenue from the government in respect of policing as a result of migration issues in Westminster or beyond that?

  Sir Simon Milton: The Local Government Association commissioned some research last year from the Institute of Community Cohesion to try to get an understanding about the costs and benefits of migration as far as concerned local public services. It was discovered that clearly there were both benefits and costs. As far as concern policing, councils tend to see the impacts in a number of ways. Where one has migrants becoming victims of crime, which is generally more likely than those people being the perpetrators, there are clear issues about picking up the social costs of that. Where children are involved there are issues around child protection which are often quite expensive and complicated in terms of tracking family histories. There are issues to do with higher costs arising from enforcement on houses in multiple occupation. Most migrants tend to live in private rented accommodation rather than council or housing association accommodation and very often there are issues with overcrowding and health and safety. All of those are additional costs. The problem that councils face is that they are not compensated directly for the additional costs related to increases in short-term population. I can expand on that if you wish.

  Q355  Chairman: Obviously, because Westminster is at the core of the capital city it has always had migration issues?

  Sir Simon Milton: Yes, it has.

  Q356  Chairman: You have been a local councillor for many years. Is the current situation worse than it was, say, five or 10 years ago?

  Sir Simon Milton: I would say it is but for a very specific reason. Councils including my own can generally manage the impacts of migration pretty well provided they are able to plan. The difference in the past few years is that nobody expected, certainly not the government and local government, the scale and suddenness of the increase in the number of people arriving.

  Q357  Chairman: Are we talking specifically about East Europeans?

  Sir Simon Milton: A8s and more recently A2s. That has been the difference between today and our historic patterns of inward migration over the years. The research which the LGA carried out and the government's own commission chaired by Dara Singh found out that many parts of the country with no experience of inward migration suddenly had a significant increase. They found that very difficult to manage because they had no background in dealing with it. In cities like London and Leicester there is a long tradition of inward migration and generally those cities and towns know very well how to cope with it, but there are nevertheless resource implications.

  Q358  Ms Buck: We have a good deal of history of discussing issues to do with population locally and, to be fair, some agreement upon it. To elaborate on some of those things, to what extent is the LGA working on perhaps a national response? There are issues to do with counting population and dealing with the consequences of two particular things. One is mobility, population churn, and the extent to which that in itself creates additional pressures for policing and a whole range of other services. There is also hyper-diversity, that is, the fact that if you have a population in which, say, 90 languages are spoken in schools that presents a different set of challenges from a situation where one has the same number of migrants but perhaps from one or two different backgrounds?

  Sir Simon Milton: Those are both key issues on which the LGA is doing a great deal. We were at the forefront of arguing over the course of the past two years that the systems for counting population are simply not fit for purpose. That has now been accepted by a number of Select Committees of both the Lords and Commons to which we have given evidence. The government has also accepted that there are major shortfalls in how migration is counted both at the borders but also where people move on to settle and the churn of population which is very significant. Until we get a better handle on that we will not solve the problem of resources. Government can provide resources only on the basis of accurate data. If the data is not there the costs being borne locally cannot be compensated through additional revenue.

  Q359  Ms Buck: What is the LGA doing to assist that? That debate has been going on for some time. You will know that we ran into a wall with the 2001 census. I do not see any signs that from within the LGA and other agencies we have anything like a coherent set of indicators.

  Sir Simon Milton: We are working on something and hope to publish the results later this year. That will set out some ideas about how one can use administrative data more effectively to supplement the ONS data to give a much richer picture of the true position in local areas. Councils have various data bases from council tax registers to child protection registers. There are NHS and GP registrations and National Insurance numbers. If all of that information were collated it would provide a much richer picture. That is the work we are doing and we can write to the Committee with further details of that if that would be helpful.


 
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