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Tony Travers

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Migration funding is needed to manage the results of Whitehall’s policies.

The government is on the run over immigration. Having simultaneously lost its grip on international in-migration, statistics about migrants and public opinion, the Home Office is rapidly revising its approach. Breaking all traditions, ministers even went so far as to apologise for publishing inaccurate figures on the subject.

As a result of the migration debacle local authorities are in an excellent position to force the government to shift both resources and power away from Whitehall. It is central government, after all, that manages the UK border. Even the most arrogant of Whitehall insiders cannot blame councils for the country’s chaotic immigration policies. Like declaring war, the control of in-migration lies 100% within the control of the core of the government of the day.

A number of authorities have built up a powerful case for additional funding to cope with unmeasured migrant numbers. Slough BC, more than any council in the country, has led the case for extra resources. The Local Government Association has recently argued for a£250m fund to help councils with high costs associated with new migrants.

A number of different issues are wrapped up in the need for more local funding. First, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) appears unable to find a way of accurately measuring year-on-year changes in population in places where migration is running at a high level. In fairness, it is very hard to count new and temporary residents, particularly if they live in multiply occupied accommodation. Having said this, ONS seems to find it difficult to admit it sometimes makes mistakes.

The second issue is that the formula grant appears insensitive to many of the needs of new migrants. For example, there are no explicit factors in the grant’s ‘needs’ factors for, say, translation costs or management of social cohesion. Third, some parts of the needs assessments are ‘damped’ from year to year, while more seriously overall allocations of grant are also smoothed.

In short, the grant arrangements are unlikely to shift resources to areas with sudden demands arising from the arrival of migrants. The local government funding system is so leaden that, in its present condition, it is simply incapable of measuring any rapidly changing need to spend.

Areas that benefit from the economic advantages brought by migrants see the whole of any additional taxation generated being paid directly to the Treasury. Councils must then beg for additional resources for the services needed as a result of demands from new residents. Unfortunately, the public only sees the higher service costs. Increased tax revenues remain invisible. Councils need not only money but also the powers to manage a range of ‘cohesion’ issues. Local government more or less alone manages the complex consequences of Whitehall migration policy. The LGA should demand resources and power to do the job well.

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