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FLAWED FIGURES HIT COHESION

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Slough calls for extra funding to serve migrants...
Slough calls for extra funding to serve migrants

By Dan Drillsma-Milgrom, finance reporter

Inaccurate population statistics are putting council's community cohesion work at risk, prompting calls for emergency funding from central government.

Officials from Slough BC are due to meet the Department for Communities & Local Government's community cohesion unit in the next few weeks, on behalf of a number of councils. They want to discuss how the funding shortfall they suffer because out-of-date population data is used to calculate grants hitting services.

Councils say the data fails to take account of the number of immigrants arriving. This puts financial pressure on their ability to provide housing, translation services and school assessment centres for children of immigrant families and so aid their integration.

Slough's finance director Andrew Blake-Herbert highlighted the cost pressures councils such as Slough, Newham and Lewisham LBCs were under as a result of the shortfall.

'Our children's assessment centre is doing good work with kids whose English is poor but it comes at a cost,' he said. 'It is unable to keep up with demand and we need to open another three or four - but we cannot afford it.'

The Office for National Statistics has admitted the current methodology is flawed, but any remedy could take up to three years. With a three-year revenue support grant settlement due to be negotiated next year, Mr Blake-Herbert says that short-term measures need to put in place.

'Our finances are being stretched to breaking point - the government needs to put a specific grant in place for those councils most severely hit by this problem. This could be ring-fenced or linked to community cohesion issues.'

Lies, damned leis and statistics

>> Yearly population estimates - which the Treasury uses to calculate the formula grant - use GP registrations to measure internal migration. A large proportion of some immigrant communities do not register with a GP. Meanwhile, the estimates use the International Passenger Survey to measure international migration. This is voluntary and rarely used.

>> At the 2001 census, Slough was estimated to have the ninth fastest-growing population in the UK, mainly as a result of migration. In the yearly estimates since then, it has been reported as having the second fastest-declining population in the country. Slough estimates that this irregularity has cost it£4.6m since 2002-2003.

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