“Cities are where people come together”, said one delegate at a recent Core Cities UK roundtable to which faith leaders from across our 10 urban areas were invited.
It was a fascinating discussion, during which we heard about the efforts taking place on the ground to encourage understanding and aid cohesion. There was also widespread agreement that there are many myths around migration, some of them cynically exploited by extreme groups who want to encourage division.
We also talked about how deprivation can fuel suspicion between communities and how devolution, which allows city leaders to join up economic and social policy at the level of place, thus cutting waste and duplication, could help us strengthen our communities.
And there was a recognition that the Core Cities remain open and tolerant, despite the pressures of austerity, but that higher levels of interaction are sometimes needed to increase trust between communities.
A report prepared for the roundtable by Centre for Cities and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, was full of insights into the benefits of our cities remaining diverse, friendly and open places.
All our cities have seen an increase in population over the past 10 years – we are now home to 20 million UK citizens – and migration has played a significant part in this. There are complaints from some that this is increasing the stress on hospitals, housing and schools, but the truth is more complex.
The overall impact of immigration on public services is hard to measure, but evidence suggests that per capita spend is lower for non-European Economic Area (EEA) migrants compared with UK-born residents.
City leaders and mayors know non-UK nationals are often the backbone of the services that keep our cities functioning, with disproportionately higher numbers working in areas like health and hospitality. That is why we were glad to see their rights guaranteed at the conclusion of stage one of the recent Brexit negotiations.
EU-born residents in Core Cities are more likely to have high-level qualifications than the UK-born population, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing the jobs they are qualified for. The report also states that EU-born residents tend to be younger and more likely to be in work when compared to the UK-born population. This age profile also means they are more likely to have children and this does place strain on school placements in cities.
The report reveals noticeable gaps when it comes to measuring the numbers of migrants and their impacts. City leaders and mayors know we must develop a more detailed understanding of them.
Government population projections are often inaccurate and this is largely due to the way international migration flows are measured. We need better data, for example using up-to-date figures from HMRC and Department for Work & Pensions, to give a true picture of the local labour market so we can make better decisions.
We also need true cooperation between local and central government, particularly around asylum seekers. When the current contracts with private sector providers end, local authorities and government departments should cooperate to devise an improved system.
Core Cities need greater freedoms to create wealth and tackle deprivation, but also to deal with the population and cultural changes that migration brings to their own communities.
Cities most affected by migration should receive additional funding not only to deal with the increasing pressure on some public services but also to implement initiatives that make sure our cities remain places where people come together.
Judith Blake (Lab), chair, Core Cities UK; leader, Leeds City Council
Judith Blake: Cities require freedoms to deal with population change