BBC News 8.6.2006

Council tax 'rises for migrants'

Sharp council tax rises may be needed in the next few years to fund housing and education for immigrant families, says the Local Government Association.

The LGA, which represents local authorities in England and Wales, says rises of 6% on top of inflation-related increases may be needed in some places.
It says councils do not get enough cash to fund the services because official figures under estimate migrant levels.

But ministers say funding is fair and based on the best figures available.
The claims follow Home Secretary John Reid's call for a migration advisory committee to recommend an "optimum" level of immigration.
He is expected to flesh out his ideas in a speech about migration on Wednesday.

'Invisible population'

In a letter to Mr Reid, LGA chairman Sandy Bruce-Lockhart has asked if he has requested more accurate immigration figures to be compiled and, if so, when they will become available.

Figures on migration to the UK are provided to the Home Office by the Office for National Statistics.

But the decision on how much money to allocate each local authority to pay for services to immigrant families based on these figures is taken by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

In his letter Lord Bruce-Lockhart says: "Working migrants have become an invisible population whose children need school places, who need to be housed appropriately and in some cases need social services. Official statistics have failed to reflect this.
"Unless accurate, up-to-date figures on migration are produced so that the proper funding to councils can be reflected, this could pose severe problems in the future as services get cut, or council tax has to rise disproportionately for growing migrant population."


Lord Bruce-Lockhart cited the example of Slough, Berkshire, where officials figures put the number of immigrants far lower than the number the local authority believes has settled in the area.

Council chiefs in Slough say a 6% council tax surcharge could be needed over the next five years.

Official estimates put the number settling in Slough in 2004 at just 300.
But there were 9,000 new National Insurance registrations in the town that year - only 150 of which were for British nationals, although it is unclear how many of those newly registered people are still in the area.

Lord Bruce-Lockhart said it was "unacceptable" that more accurate figures were not available.

Providing accurate figures was the joint responsibility of the Home Office and the DCLG, he said.

Fairness efforts

The Home Office said it did not comment on private correspondence.
But the Statistics Commission watchdog warned early last year that figures on international migration needed to "improve markedly", a view shared by many academics and pressure groups.

Habib Rahman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the LGA was right to demand transparency.

"A good place to start in establishing this transparency would be a regularisation scheme which would tell us in which communities and which sectors the UK's half a million irregular population [illegal immigrants] is living and working," he said.
"It needs to be recognised that migrants, including irregular migrants are actually making many local services possible through working directly for locally councils or indirectly via sub-contracted services."

In his letter, Lord Bruce-Lockhart also asked Mr Reid to indicate what the government's policy would be towards Romania and Bulgaria, which are due to join the EU next year.

He said Britain was one of only three existing EU countries to allow unlimited immigration from the last wave of countries to join the union, including Poland and the Czech Republic.


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