LBWF and government funding to encourage social cohesion (1)

In recent months, the government has awarded LBWF two large sums of money to help boost social cohesion, and this, and a succeeding post, look in detail at the justification for such funding, and how the money is being spent.

The first award was announced late last year, came from the government’s rather oddly named Controlling Migration Fund (CMF) (for which see and is worth ‘£1,015,080 for the period to August 2019’.

In bidding for CMF, LBWF submitted a ‘summary of key proposals and council outcomes’, and this begins with some observations on the local background:

‘Over the last 10 years Waltham Forest has become an attractive settling in place for migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, North Africa and Asia. National Insurance Number registration data shows there were 17,300 new migrants arriving in Waltham Forest in 2014/15, an increase from 11,600 the previous year (Source: DWP). This increase is largely driven by lifting of controls for EU2 countries and a subsequent increase in migrants from Romania and Bulgaria. Overall, since 2000, the population of Waltham Forest not born in the UK has increased by 59,000’.

Next up is a list if the issues that need to be tackled, grouped under three headings:

(a) Integration

‘migrants who remain isolated from the wider community, with low levels of English language skills and limited opportunities to establish contact with people outside their own community’;

(b) Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) Fostering

 ‘insufficient foster carers to accommodate’ UASC, ‘in number and in relation to cultural matching’;

(c) ‘Rogue Landlords, elective rough sleeping, aggressive begging and prostitution’

‘rogue landlords’ who ‘exploit their tenants, many of whom are migrants, and create a range of problems in the local community’; accommodation associated with ‘[p]eople working in the construction industry on a cash-in-hand basis’ which is ‘often poorly managed, overcrowded and unsafe’; ‘Properties operating as brothels’; and ‘elective rough sleeping by migrants’, with ‘associated problems of aggressive begging and street drinking’.

A final section itemises how the money will be spent, and promises a menu of actions, aimed at each of the issues:

(a) an expansion of the existing Conversation Club provision, with the recruitment of 104 volunteer mentors, the establishment of 10 new Clubs helping ‘200 residents gain English language skills’, and an allied programme of ‘trips to places of interest’;

(b) ‘a two year targeted marketing campaign’ to recruit 20 new foster carers from ‘specific migrant communities from which we have few foster carers’, plus the employment of two part-time social workers with requisite language skills to ‘carry out the necessary assessments’; and

(c) increased ‘enforcement activity with regard to rogue landlords and rough sleeping’, including ‘an additional 125 raids each year (250 in total) as part of a multi-agency task force’, focusing on, for example, ‘unlicensed residential properties’, and ‘begging and street drinking hotspots’, with the ‘indicative’ outputs tabulated as follows:

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 10.22.18

A provisional expenditure split is appended:

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 10.21.38

So much for what’s intended, how has the CMF award been received? When it was announced, the Leader, Cllr. Clare Coghill, was predictably enthusiastic, arguing that ‘Making new people arriving in our borough welcome is both fair and right – but at the same time it is important that we keep our residents informed and address any concerns they may have about the impact of immigration on public services and community safety’. On the other hand, the Waltham Forest Guardian coverage generated a large amount of below-the-line criticism, with a common theme being broadly ‘Why do we bend over backwards for migrants?’.

Looked at in the cold light of day, much of the latter makes little sense. English language provision accounts for only 20 per cent of LBWF’s CMF budget. Moreover, doing nothing will leave those who do not speak English ‘well or at all’ (estimated as 6 per cent of the local population) isolated from society, and for example potentially subject to the unchallenged control of religious or ‘community’ leaders, painfully limiting for the individuals concerned, of course, but also hardly sensible given the borough’s history of extremism. Addressing these facts is not ‘bending over backwards’ for anyone, merely pragmatism. Similarly, whether necessarily associated with migrants or not, slum properties, unsafe and dilapidated, are not only awful for those who live in them, but also a blight on the surrounding  areas, so taking action against rogue landlords – for instance those who rent out ‘beds in sheds’  – can only be a big plus.

However, that said, there are certainly legitimate concerns. One issue is balance. LBWF’s approach is built around the promise of vigorous enforcement. By contrast, there is relatively little mention of aiding those at the sharp end of the problems being addressed – for example, ‘elective rough sleepers’, the tenants of slum properties, and women working in brothels. Thus, though LBWF is known to contract both Thamesreach Street Rescue and Cambridge House Safer Renting, and pledges to offer ‘signposting to housing options and other support services’ whenever possible, it has pointedly elected not to use CMF money to boost its offer. Whether this is because of the obvious political attractiveness of macho posturing, or is informed by a sober assessment of priorities, remains to be seen, but it does not auger well, particularly in the light of LBWF’s past harassment of the Christian Kitchen.

A further apprehension centres on practicalities. LBWF has a poor record of monitoring how projects of this type evolve, both in terms of expenditure and outputs (see the links about the Better Neighbourhoods Initiative (BNI) below), while there have been allegations in the past, too, that enforcement action against ‘rogue landlords’ appeared subject to political interference, with some in Labour’s ranks on occasion mysteriously escaping the net.

Clearly, it will be sensible to return to this subject a bit further down the line, when it is possible to assess exactly what is being achieved.

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Documenting Past Failures: (6) Cllr. Loakes, PwC, and the BNI Community Cohesion Projects

Documenting Past Failures: (5) The BNI – ‘We’re awfully sorry, folks. Mistakes were made about how we spent millions of pounds of public money. But it’s all in the past. Let’s move forward and forget it’.