Immigrants 'swamping' council services
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Local services across England are coming under huge strain as a result of unprecedented levels of immigration, council chiefs said yesterday.
They accused the Government of failing to take account of the massive influx of migrant workers, especially from eastern Europe, in their financial settlement for local government.
Councils say there are not enough houses for the extra workers. Public services, including transport, schools and hospitals, are finding it hard to cope with the additional numbers. Yet official figures are under-estimating the scale of the migration.
The alarm was sounded yesterday by Cheryl Coppell, the chief executive of Slough borough council, Berks.
Thousands of workers from the EU accession states have descended on the town, which has high employment levels.
Over the past 18 months, about 9,000 new National Insurance numbers have been issued in Slough, of which just 150 went to British nationals. Yet, in 2004, the Office for National Statistics recorded only 300 international migrants settling in the area.
Ms Coppell said the arrival of thousands of migrants was hitting the employment prospects of people already living there and had led to overcrowding problems, with as many as 15 migrant workers in a single house.
Despite this, the Government statistics on which the allocation of central Whitehall funding is calculated show the borough's population is falling.
By the time this is rectified in the next census in 2011, the borough will have lost out on about 15 million – and will need to raise council taxes by six per cent more than planned every year to make up the gap.
Britain was the only major economy in Europe to allow unfettered access to its labour market for the new EU citizens from the former Soviet bloc.
Most other countries exercised an option to restrict workers from the accession countries for up to seven years, though some, like Spain and Portugal, have removed the barriers.
The Home Office initially estimated that up to 13,000 workers would come from the eight countries.
But the latest official figures showed this forecast was out by a factor of at least 20, with more than 350,000 people arriving from Poland, the Baltic states and other central European countries looking for work by the end of 2005.
This is expected to be well over 400,000 when the figures are next published – and these are only the workers who have registered.
Even though their policy was evidently based on wrong information, ministers have nonetheless defended their approach, saying that European workers have provided the country with cheap labour and few have claimed benefits or social security support.
But they do not appear to have taken account of the impact on services of such a sudden flow of workers.
“Because the Government's figures are now woefully inadequate to represent Slough's population, we don't have the money we need to provide basic services,” said Ms Coppell.
“We are having to consider cutting a lot of the things we would like to do.”
She said she feared that the newcomers would threaten the social cohesion of the town, which already has more than one third of its residents from ethnic minorities.
“Slough has a good reputation for social cohesion, but we are now being pushed to stretching point and we are very worried that some of these incoming communities are having displacement effects on our existing communities,” she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
“For example, we have seen Pakistani employment rates fall over the last few months, and we believe that that is because some of the migrants are taking their jobs.”
A report from the Department for Work and Pensions rejected suggestions that east Europeans were taking the jobs of people already here.
It said: “The economic impact of migration from the new EU Member States has been modest, but broadly positive, reflecting the flexibility and speed of adjustment of the UK labour market.”
There is anecdotal evidence that the new workers are forcing down wages for indigenous workers. While this can improve competitiveness and create more jobs, recent figures also show that unemployment is on the rise.
Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart, the chairman of the Local Government Association, said the situation was similar in many parts of the country. He urged the Government to recognise that its statistics were no longer adequate for calculating an area's needs.
Although the South East was the favoured location for many eastern Europeans, there are signs that the jobs may be drying up as more arrivals are seeking work elsewhere, with East Anglia seeing the largest growth.
Earlier this year, Crewe reported similar problems to Slough, with 3,000 new arrivals from Poland in a town of 48,000 in just over a year.
Most of the first wave of workers were single men living in rented houses but when families started arriving, local schools came under pressure.