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24.09.15

MPs challenge Clark over refugee cash for councils

The government must “spell out far more clearly” how much support will be provided to help councils deal with the “urgent” Syrian refugee issue after alleged discrepancies in Whitehall’s cash promises.

In a letter to communities secretary Greg Clark MP, the chair of the Commons communities and local government committee challenged the lack of clarity from central government in establishing how many years’ worth of refugee-related costs will be covered.

Its chair, Labour’s Clive Betts MP, said Clark had initially confirmed refugees would be given at least a five-year period stay in England, the costs of which would be picked up by Whitehall. This included education, healthcare, housing and other expenses to councils taking in refugees.

According to Betts, Clark said on 15 September, after being asked whether local authorities would have to bear extra costs: “Part of what we need to look at is what the extra costs are. As the committee well knows, some of the revenue to local authorities comes with population, for example; it comes automatically. That is what we are doing, completely jointly in an open book way, with the Local Government Association and their constituent councils, to bring their expertise to bear on this.”

Betts then claimed that, on the next day, home secretary Theresa May contradicted this by saying costs of refugees taken into the UK would only be covered for the first year from available overseas development aid (ODA) funding.

She added: “That is open to us and that is the decision we have taken. [George Osborne] made it clear that he is considering the funding thereafter, but he must obviously do that in the context of the Spending Review that is taking place.”

Betts said May was pressed for more explanation at the time, to which she responded that ODA funding was only secured for the first year – after which point there would have to be discussions between the LGA, the Treasury and others involved in the issue.

In his letter, Betts reiterated that he would “grateful” if Clark would clarify what councils can expect to receive and for how long in face of “discrepancies” on Whitehall’s part.

Commenting on the letter, he added: “The government has made a commitment to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees and ministers should match this with a promise to cover the full costs incurred by local councils – not just for the first year – to deliver this national policy.

“If the government fails to make this funding commitment, the government is in effect saying to communities, ‘welcome refugees now, but you will pay the full cost in the future in cuts to your services for funding the refugees coming to our communities’.

“As a country we have a responsibility to help refugees but the government must avoid potential damage to community relations by failing to provide the necessary support to local authorities.”

On 7 September, Osborne announced that money would be diverted from the UK’s £11.8bn international aid budget to help councils cover the settling costs of thousands of refugees.

However he had said at the time that decisions were “short term” and that, in the long term, the government would need a “fundamental rethink” of their aid policy.

There has not yet been a response to the letter from the DCLG. PSE contacted the department for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publishing.

(Top image: Migrants from Syria and Afghanistan arrive on Lesbos, 15 July c. AP Photo, Santi Palacios)

Comments

Ian Ward   24/09/2015 at 12:56

I am of the opinion that if we are looking to assist 20,000 Syrian refugees, and normally we would assist using the OAB, this money would be better managed by our local councils, who would be subject to far more stringent financial regulations than the overseas NGO's agencies and other parties where corrupt practices are endemic, and discovering how and why the money spent is often clouded in mystery.

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