Rudd’s migration fund part of hardline policy

by Jonathan Carr-West | 19.10.2016

Special funds to help offset the impact of migration on local communities are all the rage. Jeremy Corbyn promised one in his Conference speech. Home Secretary Amber Rudd promised a £140 million fund in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference last week. Both follow an idea launched by Gordon Brown, dropped by David Cameron’s coalition government in 2010 and then reintroduced in the 2015 Conservative manifesto. But Rudd’s plan is quite different in emphasis and spirit from Brown’s or Corbyn’s. They aimed to help local authorities under pressure from rapid migration. Rudd’s does that as well – but not for nothing is her proposal called the Controlling Migration Fund.

The Conservative manifesto described the fund as “designed specifically to ease the pressures on public services in areas of high migration. And at the same time [to] implement strategies to reduce illegal immigration.” But it is clear that the government interprets the Brexit vote as a directive to reduce the number of migrants. Rudd declared in her speech the intention to get net migration down to “tens of thousands”. Whatever the motives for cutting net immigration, however, and some are nakedly xenophobic, there are legitimate concerns about pressure on public services.

A fund to ease these pressure makes sense. There’s little detail, however, about what Rudd’s fund will do. The Home Office departmental plan says only that the government will introduce a Controlling Migration Fund to ease pressure on services and pay for additional migration enforcement. The Home Secretary’s speech is clearer about what the fund is not – not the same as Brown’s Migration Impacts Fund, certainly not the same as whatever Jeremy Corbyn might be proposing – than about what it is. But the emphasis, it seems, will be on reducing illegal immigration.

Rudd said in her speech: “The fund will build on work we have done to support local authorities …to stop giving housing benefit to people that have no right to be in the country … to reduce rough sleeping by illegal immigrants … and to crack down on the rogue landlords who house illegal migrants in the most appalling conditions.”

Local authorities can be forgiven for feeling that, not for the first time, they are picking up the pieces for the failures of central government. Extra money is always welcome, but it is important to see Rudd’s fund in the wider local government budget context. First, given an overall annual spend by local authorities of £94 billion, £140 million will barely touch the sides. Second, that as by far the fastest growing part of that expenditure is adult social care, many local authorities will be more worried about the internal migration of ageing Brits than they are by non-UK nationals

Then there’s the execution of the plan. Funds will presumably be allocated on the basis of need, but we know how hard it is to administer needs-based formulae from the centre. Calculating detailed changes in service demand, and the extent to which they’re driven by migration, from a desk in Whitehall is going to be hard. Just this year, the government had to announce £150 million additional transitional funding after changes to the local government funding formula left many councils unexpectedly out of pocket.

Further, local government does not control many key services. Broadly speaking migration puts most pressure on housing, school places and access to primary health care. Housing is a council budget, but school places are increasingly outside council control as more schools become academies. Primary health, such as GPs, is completely outside local government control.

Channeling a ring-fenced fund from the Home Office into separate public service silos will simply create further fragmentation and prevent the sort of service integration that we need on the ground to help mitigate demand pressures. An effective migration fund must be part of a broader reform of how public service budgets join up within local areas and how local government funding is driven by local circumstances – that is, is by allowing local government more autonomy in the way it generates and spends income. When George Osborne was at the Treasury there was a clear direction of travel towards devolution and financial autonomy, but this now looks less certain.

Rudd’s proposal is part and parcel of the government’s hardline immigration policy. But if the new fund is an effective element in wider local government reform, there is potential to take some heat out of the migration debate. If not, it is likely to be money wasted.

The writer is Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit

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Edited by Michael Prest

One Response to “Rudd’s migration fund part of hardline policy”

  • I’m still unsure that the Tories can really be as xenophobic and illiberal as some recent policies suggest, especially as some of these proposals are coming from people who previously showed little sign of such tendencies. I tend to think that it all comes back to Theresa May’s Brexit brainstorming, where the only item on the agenda was to make a success of it.

    There are precious few benefits from Brexit, and even fewer that are coherent, or more than wishful thinking. Even though the Brexiteers claim it will make everything brilliant, most of the cabinet have the sense to see through their fantasies of selling bottled air or whatever nonsense they come up with next. But when told they must find gains from such a destructive act, immigration policies that incline towards the nationalist, or worse, are hard to ignore. Even though they’re both illiberal and damaging to the country as a whole, they can be argued (from a certain perspective) to be positive. In a tight spot, that’s not to be sniffed at.

    But this is the danger. The referendum result came about in part because people felt poor or neglected, and had been told that immigration was the problem. We could be heading for much more economic pain (at best, or even catastrophe) with a government facing no serious opposition and shouting even louder, for cynical reasons, that immigration is the problem. This won’t end well.

    It’s hard to mention the rise of fascism without sounding melodramatic, but you don’t have to consider Amber Rudd a racist to recognise that we might very rapidly be on a one-way trip to 1930s Germany. This is a disaster years in the making, and the longer it’s left, the harder it will be to turn it around.