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All Immigration is Local

The prevailing wisdom is that local pressures due to immigration could be better addressed by a larger and better publicised Controlling Migration Fund. Is this really the case, and what might the alternatives be?

Tensions resulting from perceived impacts of immigration at the local level in the UK have recently had a profound effect on national politics. The Controlling Migration Fund has been a key strand of the official response. But the CMF’s small size and lack of publicity have received much criticism. Simply beefing up the CMF may not be the answer though. Through the bid-based system the CMF provides an important bridge between the central and the local, but the CMF suffers from being misnamed, misdescribed and misrepresented. Local impacts from immigration take many forms, may have multiple causes, and cannot all realistically be addressed by the CMF.

Indeed a standalone, heavily publicised fund specifically aimed at international migrants’ local impacts might not best placate public concerns. And there is an existing mechanism through which the resource allocation system seeks to adjust local services to population pressures. But it is clear that improvements to the funding formulae could better match resources to pressures on a more accurate and timely basis. Meanwhile the CMF could be rebadged to focus on the integration programs that in practice it majors on, as part of an expanded Integrated Communities Fund.

Better local data is crucial. Official survey, administrative and commercial data all have a part to play, and should be better linked and made available to support key analysis and decisions that are needed for the benefit of society. Local feedback will always be needed though and the regional Strategic Migration Partnership structure may be best placed to provide that. In addition, greater publicity of the financial contribution and receipts received from immigration could allow a more balanced, and joined up, framing of migration statistics.

The perception has been that business community has secured for itself the benefits of immigration without doing anything to share those benefits more broadly. Its lobbying approach over immigration policy has been largely perceived as narrowly self-interested and has not in fact best served business’ interest, largely serving to target anti-immigration ire at business itself. UK business should consider the American example, where business has sought to present a more holistic case for more open immigration policies from the local community perspective.

Finally, the Report highlights a large caveat. Which is that the best strategies to address both local pressures of immigration and public concerns resulting from them are going to need to be tested, and discovered through trial and error, in terms of substance, but also of branding and presentation. And the best strategies may differ considerably across different localities. The most pressing need is therefore to be flexible and open minded, and to start experimenting on that basis.

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