James Sunderland raises concerns at the scale of refugee settlement proposed for Bracknell Forest

James Sunderland welcomes the Government’s New Plan for Immigration but raises concerns at the scale of the model currently under consultation which is out of proportion and would severely impact the resources of a small unitary authority with no council-owned stock such as Bracknell Forest.

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

Whatever the Government are told, the fact remains that the UK is a global leader in overseas aid and refugee resettlement. Between 2016 and 2019, we resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member. In 2015, the Government committed to resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable who had fled the conflict in Syria. The UK has now resettled over 25,000 refugees in total in the past six years. Over half of them have been children. Any asylum seeker who would otherwise be destitute is provided with free accommodation with utility bills and council tax paid, as well as a weekly allowance with extra money for mothers and little children.

As a nation at the vanguard of human rights around the world, it is right that the UK offers legal and safe routes to help the most vulnerable people in the world. But, Mr Chairman, we have got ourselves into an awful pickle, and it is now out of control. My contention today is twofold: first, the current policy does nothing to disincentivise those who seek to take advantage of our generosity, and our over-populated island is already at capacity. Secondly, we need more robust policies, so I welcome current initiatives from the Home Office such as the points-based immigration system. But we also have to send a clear message to disincentivise economic migration on the pretext of asylum.

As part of the New Plan for Immigration and to help speed up the processing of claims, the Government plan to introduce new asylum reception centres. I welcome that, but would urge that it does not include the dis-aggregated model proposed for provincial towns such as Bracknell, and on which Bracknell Forest Council is currently being consulted. The reasons are persuasive. That small unitary council does not have the space or resources to deal with over 200 families. It is about fire safety, it is about community cohesion, community tension, overcrowding, building regulations, environmental health. The list goes on.

Bracknell is not a very multicultural area. The impact on housing pressure at local level could cause further tensions if there is resentment about refugees receiving housing assistance at a time of acute affordable housing shortage. The scale of the proposed procurement would have a significant negative impact on the resources of a small unitary authority with no council-owned stock. Contextually, Bracknell Forest Council’s housing team has managed in the last twelve months to procure 21 private rented sector households: compare that to 200.

In sum, we need a faster, more robust asylum system. I regret, however, that the model pursued by the Government and by companies such as Clearsprings in Bracknell is just not the answer. We will take our share, but we also need a sense of perspective.