The Government's negotiating objectives: the White Paper Contents

Annex 4: Note of meetings in Boston, Lincolnshire, 2 February 2017

Introductory meeting

Phil Drury

Chief Executive, Boston Borough Council (BBC)

Cllr Peter Bedford

Leader, Boston Borough Council

Cllr Paul Gleeson

Labour Group Leader, Boston Borough Council

Cllr James Edwards

UKIP Group Leader, Boston Borough Council

Cllr Alison Austin

Chair of Planning Committee, Boston Borough Council

Ruth Carver

Lincolnshire LEP Manager

Rebecca Clark

External Funding Manager, Boston College

Superintendent Paul Timmins

Lincolnshire Police

Justin Brown

Enterprise Commissioner, Lincolnshire County Council

Darryl Dixon

Director of Strategy, Gangmasters Licensing Authority

The Committee heard that Boston had changed dramatically since 1998, when Portuguese migrants came as seasonal agricultural workers. The Committee heard that the concentration of young migrants in a small town meant that changes were felt more acutely.

The most striking impact of immigration in Boston has been the growth of homes of multiple occupiers (HMO), a unique aspect of which was “hot bedding”. Hot bedding had led to the local phenomenon of large groups of migrants drinking in the streets while they waited for their turn to have a bed. It was noted that the majority of EU migrants were 18–30 year olds living and working abroad for the first time and acting as 18–30 year olds do when away from home, but in quiet residential streets. The Committee was told that the local authority needed government funding to tackle the HMO and hot bedding phenomenon.

The rise in migration into Boston had been so rapid (a 400% increase in EU migrants between 2004 and 2014) that demand for accommodation significantly outstripped supply. HMOs expanded overnight, turning two-bed terraced houses into accommodation for 10 people. The rent that landlords made on HMOs put those houses out of reach of local people. There is no law to register HMOs so the authorities were unclear about the exact number of such accommodation in the town and also found it difficult to manage landlords. The example was given that when the town was flooded in 2013, it took nearly six months to find all the landlords, one of whom was registered in the Virgin Islands. The local authority had explored the option of a licensing scheme for landlords, similar to Newham, but they did not have enough evidence to meet the legal test.

The Committee heard that migrants represented cheap labour and that gangmasters were able to lower what workers receive without breaching the minimum wage by arranging transport to the fields which workers must take and pay for, even without the guarantee of work once they arrive. It was noted that the authorities do have the power to revoke licences if gangmasters do not meet standards, but had difficulties in getting evidence as workers are afraid of losing their jobs. There is a very low rate of unionisation amongst migrant workers.

The meeting then discussed the importance of migrant workers to the local economy. The Committee heard that there is an insufficient number of local workers able to meet demand in some parts of the local economy. Agriculture and food production and processing sectors use a lot, sometimes over 50 per cent, of migrant labour. Technology and robotics were highlighted as a means to increase productivity, but it would take time for such developments to have an impact. There was a need to improve skills training locally. It was noted that at present France and Germany use four times as much technology and robotics in manufacturing and food processing than the UK. This would require significant investment. The skills shortages locally had also led Lincolnshire County Council to recruit social workers from abroad, including from outside the EU.

The Committee were told that many of the challenges the town had faced as a result of the rapid increase in EU migrants to the town was due to the shortage of local resources to cope with the population increase. The police in particular had had to deal with increased pressures. The key issues for the police had been with migrants unable to go to their accommodation until a certain time which had led to street drinking, young people with nowhere to go, large groups hanging around and talking in foreign languages, which some parts of the community had found intimidating. Alcohol was a big issue, with a correlation between alcohol and other offences such as assaults and drink driving. Police had had to adapt their approach to policing the night-time economy from employing interpreting services to dealing with increased demand on custody services with reducing resources. For example, the police were spending £440,000 a year extra on interpreting services. As an indication of the difficulties in understanding the number of EU migrants in the town, the meeting noted that the number of Central and Eastern European (CEE) migrants passing through custody was higher than the estimated CEE population. Government funding is linked to population data which the local authority cannot reliably provide. The police, as with other public services, were lacking the tools and resources to deal with extra pressures, for example Public Protection Orders were limited to designated areas and difficult to enforce.

The Committee also heard about pressures on the health service, particularly on A&E as migrants were often not registered with a GP.

Discussion then moved to the shortages of skilled local labour in Boston. The Committee heard that low wages coupled with high rents discouraged British workers. While young people would go to university and not return.

The meeting concluded noting that attacking the drivers of problems in the town would mean attacking the exploitation of migrants in housing and employment which had caused low wages, high rents, and groups of young people with nowhere to go in the streets and street drinking.

Roundtable with local businesses

Clive Gibbon

Economic Development Manager, Boston Borough Council

Mark Tinsley

Chair of Greater Lincolnshire LEP Food Board

Keith Gott

Regional Chair, Federation of Small Businesses

Simon Beardsley

Chief Executive, Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce

Gordon Corner

Regional Director NFU East Midlands

Mark Newton

MD, Freshtime Ltd.

John Richmond

Owner, Freshtime Ltd.

Phil Ball

UK Operations Director, MetsaWood (UK) Ltd.

Phil Parker

Product Development Manager, Pilgrim Foodservice Ltd

Rachel Gedney

HR Manager, T H Clements

David Earnshaw

MD, Parkinson Harness Technology

Darryl Dixon

Director of Strategy, Gangmasters Licensing Authority

Ian Turvey

Turners Distribution

Andy Woods

Turners Distribution

The most pressing concern for businesses represented at the roundtable was the availability of labour. It was noted that EU migrants were not just transient workers, but some had been there for over 10 years. They make up over 50% of workers at all levels in the food industry and on the transport side as HGV drivers. For one business for which two thirds of the workforce are foreign workers, 90% of those who stay are from Central and Eastern Europe. The participants challenged the perception that EU migrants were taking British jobs, as businesses were recruiting using agencies in Lincolnshire.

Concerns were raised about the difficulties in finding labour locally and what would happen to migrant workers at the cut-off date. For agriculture, there was the suggestion of a SAW scheme, but workers were now needed 11 months of the year. They also mentioned the need to invest in automation in agriculture, an area which both the LEP and Lincolnshire University were looking at. It was suggested that the ready supply of labour had meant effort had not been made in automation.

The Committee heard from some participants about the importance of agency labour and from others about “rogue agencies”— a problem which they believed was greater than the GLA were aware of. Businesses complained about paying more tax as “rogue agencies” were cheating the system. They said that they were able to recruit 45% of their workforce locally and as such suggested that the local workforce is there. However, too many “rogue agencies” were bringing in cheap labour.

The Committee were told about efforts to improve skills locally and establish links with schools. Again participants talked about local young people going to University and not returning to Boston. It was also noted that Boston is isolated geographically with poor infrastructure, and as such it was not a town workers could commute to. Participants were concerned about a culture in the UK, and particularly in schools, which meant that children did not think farming and manufacturing were important industries, and that they had to aspire to greater things. It was difficult to attract young people to these industries, and it was difficult to attract people to Boston.

Participants suggested there was a disconnect between the local Brexit vote and the needs of local businesses. The Committee was told that immigration was actually driving the economy, but this was not a popular message with the local population.

Another sector which was identified as facing challenges if access to EU migrants was restricted was the health sector. It was noted that there was an aging population in the area and 1 in 5 care workers currently come from outside the UK.

Manufacturers also expressed concerns with leaving the Single Market and Customs Union and would have to adapt their supply chain and incur the costs of delays at customs.

Outreach event in local community

Table Notes

Why did Boston vote to leave the European Union by such a large margin?

Attendees felt there were a variety of reasons to explain Boston’s vote to leave the EU. Some felt that that the decision was a protest vote against Westminster and central government. Many suggested that Lincolnshire had been forgotten by Westminster. One attendee raised the view that the population was in fact bigger than the census suggested, as there was a contrast between the census numbers and those registering with local GPs.

The general consensus amongst the group was there was not enough funding in the local area which then translated, in real terms, to an enormous pressure on local services, for example doctors’ appointments and local school places. Additionally, across Lincolnshire transport infrastructure has not been improved, with no dual carriageways and poor rail links to London. Attendees felt that Lincolnshire had “dropped off the end of the world”.

One attendee expressed the view that there was a feeling within the local area that if Boston voted to leave the EU workers would leave. The increase in workers from Europe has resulted in changes to the local area – such as shops and languages being spoken. Some attendees suggested that these cultural differences were found to be quite shocking by local people. One attendee did highlight that unemployment in the local area is fairly minimal but that the job market offered a high proportion of low income jobs. Some attendees suggested that public perception played a key role in explaining why Boston voted in such large numbers to leave the EU. For instance, many people hold the view that EU citizens who move to the area get benefits that they are not able to get which is not based in fact. Other attendees expressed the view that a common sentiment in the local area was that EU workers get some form of special treatment. Some attendees believed that Europe and EU workers were the easiest to blame for problems within the local area but this was not in fact the full picture.

How should migration be controlled once we leave the EU?

Some attendees were quite keen to suggest that the emphasis should be on understanding migration into the UK, rather than controlling it directly with limits based on numbers, for instance. At the moment, there is little to no data on public health and housing users which could help to inform policy. One attendee asked whether it is actually possible to put controls on immigration when there is a demand for employment – could immigration be self-controlling? In recent months, the local area has seen a decrease in people interested in moving into the area for work as the demand for labour has decreased.

One attendee highlighted that many of the people working in manual, unskilled jobs in the area from the EU are highly educated. Currently, one flaw with the system that all attendees agreed on was the reluctance in the UK to read across qualifications. There was also the feeling that for many EU workers to the UK, English posed a barrier to changing employment. Attendees suggested that English lessons be offered. Therefore, attendees felt that there needed to be a way of harnessing the expertise and knowledge already available.

The current structure of obtaining work is transient with very little guarantee of work on a daily basis. Attendees raised concerns that it would be very difficult to encourage people to do this work if visas were required. Some kind of “seasonal workers scheme” was suggested to manage numbers and ensure that there were enough people to do the work required (as informed by employers).

What are the risks and opportunities of Brexit for Boston?

Opportunities:

In 2015, Boston was accepted into the Hanseatic League which provides opportunities for local business to develop, increase tourism and trade connections with fifteen countries and 187 cities across Europe. Currently, the port of Boston is used for importing steel and wood. Attendees suggested that historically Boston has a strong connection with trade (“the Stump was built on wool”) and that, with improvements to infrastructure, Boston could increase its trading capacity.

A further opportunity for Boston is to clarify where Boston residents sit with regards to their legal rights and benefits with fact rather than based on hearsay and perceptions. Additionally, EU citizens living in Boston require greater certainty regarding their legal position in the UK.

Attendees felt that understanding cultural differences were extremely important, particularly in schools as this would be a great way of encouraging community growth. Currently, Lincolnshire County Council run an “understanding your community” programme in schools but this has a small reach. Attendees suggested that this could be given additional funding and extended so that more school children have the opportunity to discuss their community, who lives there and engage with each other. The general consensus across the table was that Brexit posed a good opportunity to disseminate information to assist all members of the local community, particularly at the local level.

Risks:

Attendees felt that Brexit reinforces the feeling of “us and them” within the local community. For some, they also suggested that the vote and the aftermath of the vote created a feeling of alienation within community groups. Attendees also suggested that there were significant value differences between parents and children from EU countries who had settled in Boston which had also created pressures within the local area and which could be heightened by Brexit.

A very tangible risk was felt to be the decrease in workforce. Attendees were worried that there might not be help to re-establish trading blocs in local areas. Additionally, attendees were also worried that changes would be made at central government level and would have very little practical effect on their daily lives.

Attendees also said that there might be discrepancies with reported hate crimes versus what was actually taking place. Many in the group who had interacted with people from European countries had found that they had a negative impression of the police (stemming from their experiences with the police in other countries) which then meant they were reluctant to report any incidents to the police in Boston.

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3 April 2017