A letter to The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP and The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP suggesting key areas of focus for joint work across local and central government as a matter of urgency, as agreed by all four UK local government associations.
The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP
Secretary of State for the Home Office
The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities
9 March 2022
Dear Home Secretary and Secretary of State,
Local government's role in supporting arrivals from Ukraine
Councils have a proud history of welcoming new arrivals, stepping forward to offer homes and support so families and individuals can build new lives in the UK. As well as playing a unique role in welcoming new arrivals, councils have a huge range of expertise that could inform development and delivery of support for new arrivals from Ukraine across all routes to the UK.
We are therefore writing to suggest key areas of focus for joint work across local and central government as a matter of urgency, as agreed by all four UK local government associations. This is a follow up to individual letters outlining our respective positions. Agreeing and progressing key priorities for immediate joint focus should ensure rapid progress in providing safe places for new arrivals across the UK
- Quick planning based on joint working across government and local government at both political and official level building on existing governance arrangements, either involving or alongside other key partners such as other key public services, the community and voluntary sector and business representatives.
- Join-up with the devolved governments, taking into account the ways in which relevant policies work differently in different nations.
- Communications: Jointly clarifying key aspects of both routes as soon as possible. We are keen to set out clearly the expectations of councils, so that they can plan and pledge with certainty and to help manage potential cohesion and community resilience risks. As part of this, the Associations are keen to work on a joint engagement plan, including the rapid roll-out of joint webinars and other resources that share information and learning.
- Resources: agreeing the quantum and duration of funding for councils. This will need to both fund their direct role in sponsorship and councils’ community leadership role in ensuring integration and access to local services, in both the short and long term. As with other resettlement schemes, this is likely to cover integration support including access to English Language support, school places, and education needs; housing and homelessness support; mental health, trauma and wellbeing; social care; and higher housing costs in some areas. Councils will have this role regardless of whether they are directly providing accommodation and supporting access to employment.
- Accommodation: we would ask the government to prioritise working with local government, alongside housing providers and other partners, to find innovative and safe solutions at pace and at scale. Linked to the resources point above, we need a flexible approach to funding, so we can be creative in developing housing options at scale given issues around access to housing and school places.
- Operational alternatives: Testing out what could work at national, regional, and local level using existing infrastructure and governance and keeping the model under joint review as circumstance change. This also includes working through public health and safeguarding responsibilities. We would welcome an early commitment to avoid the use of hotels and help to secure support from NHS services.
- Data: Developing from the outset a shared sense of numbers to inform decisions on the potential model of the management and operation of the scheme. This needs to be based on the sharing of data about existing communities to ensure planning and then be followed by actual numbers of arrivals and where they are settling.
For individuals and families
- Confirmation of status and rights to access public funds as well as public services.
- Quick development of a national ‘welcome pack’ in key languages to avoid duplication and facilitate quicker integration.
- Securing data sharing permissions from the outset so details of new arrivals such as family size, health, and wider support needs can be shared to ensure these needs can be swiftly met.
- There is a huge amount of interest across the UK in supporting new arrivals. Councils will also play a huge role in mobilising and co-ordinating offers of help from members of the communities and wider civil society. We need joint, clear, and shared communication which can be used locally to harness that support; particularly for the sponsorship route, before (as learning from previous schemes demonstrates) this commitment begins to reduce.
- Rapid development of a national portal in which offers are then shared with councils, as used in previous schemes.
Councils will also be working through internal issues such as cyber security and establishing a view on planning, contracts and investments including around energy supply and pension funds with Russian firms and individuals. Councils’ will also be looking at the impacts of potential cost of living rises on individuals, families, and on community resilience, and also risks around potential escalation of the conflict. We would very much welcome ongoing dialogue with you and your officials on these key risks and issues to inform local decision making and planning.
As you will be aware, this will be part of a wider system of resettlement and dispersal.
We wish to work with you to build a system that meets the needs of people arriving at UK at the time of crisis, rather than putting such significant pressure on the current system which is already at breaking point. Officials are already working with local government colleagues to try and adapt to current and new pressures. However, the combination of exceptionally high asylum numbers with high numbers expected over the summer; the corresponding use of hotels, the rapid pace of change and wider pressure on local communities and public services makes the operational environment exceptionally challenging. We would therefore suggest a parallel focus on:
- Confirmation that the approach will therefore be able to take account of existing local pressures on public services, including an equitable approach that seeks to minimise cumulative pressures resulting from a range of Government programmes being concentrated in one place
- Linked to the above, ensure the sharing of regular data about numbers of asylum seekers, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, Afghan, and other resettlement schemes in different local authority areas. Further transparency would aid a more constructive debate about the pressures affecting different areas as everyone is encouraged to play their part to support these important national priorities
- Build capacity on what is working well already: making best use of the skills and experience in the Regional Strategic Migration Partnerships, learning from what worked in the Syrian scheme, and building on recent good work by the Managed Quarantine Service to engage proactively with councils to try and address and anticipate operational challenges,
- Devolving the matching of Afghan families to local government to free up central capacity
- Accelerating work on longer term models to address the current over-reliance on hotels, and funding for councils where asylum seekers are accommodated, to encourage wider dispersal. There is a risk that introducing a new scheme could make it even harder to for councils to accept asylum dispersal in their areas for which they receive no financial support.
We hope this list of suggestions is helpful and stand ready to meet, discuss and to work with you and your officials to move quickly to support new arrivals. We look forward to your early reply.
Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman, LGA
Cllr Andrew Morgan, Leader, WLGA
Cllr Robert Burgess, President, NILGA
Cllr Alison Evison, President, COSLA
Cc: Richard Harrington, Minister of State for Refugees