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Cameron must activate pledge on local migration funding now

by Luke Lythgoe | 15.06.2016

EU migrants are good for Britain overall. They make the economy more dynamic and pay more in taxes than they consume in public services. But poor government planning can result in pressure on local services such as schools and hospitals.

David Cameron in his own 2015 manifesto pledged to “develop a fund to ease pressure on local areas and public services”. The snag is the promised Controlling Migration Fund, which first surfaced in a 2014 speech, has yet to be activated.

Now is the perfect opportunity for Cameron to firm it up – directly addressing Vote Leave’s migration mantra of “strain on hospitals, schools and housing” – by detailing how his fund will work, how much it will spend and which communities it will benefit.

This isn’t a new idea. Gordon Brown’s Labour government launched a similar scheme in 2009 called the Migration Impacts Fund (MIF). It was funded by a levy of £50 on visa application fees of non-EU migrants, with UK taxpayers footing none of the bill.

The MIF empowered local authorities to relieve pressure on public services “to the benefit of the settled community”. The project was supposed to raise £70 million in its first two years, funding everything from bilingual teaching assistants in Yorkshire to inspections of migrant housing conditions in Cambridgeshire.

Cameron axed the MIF when he became prime minister, claiming “the impacts of migration are better addressed through controlling immigration”, and promising “net migration back down to the levels of the 1990s”. InFacts has written that this “tens of thousands” policy was foolish at the time and will remain so even if we vote to leave on June 23.

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Experts like Durham University’s Thom Brooks have been calling for the reinstatement of a scheme similar to the MIF since its abolition. Cross-party support seems likely, with Labour’s Brown and Yvette Cooper recently urging a migration fund for local services.

Activating an ambitious scheme on these lines now would show local communities that Westminster is hearing their concerns about migration. There’s no time to waste.

Edited by Hugo Dixon