Friday, January 4, 2013

British councils refuse to reveal number of homes they give to foreigners: Authorities stop giving figures amid worries over impact of immigration

Councils are trying to cover up the number of taxpayer-subsidised homes they are handing to foreigners, it was claimed yesterday.

Local authorities have stopped giving figures for how many houses and flats they have given to foreign citizens amid rising worries over the impacts of immigration, a report said.

Councils in London, where one in five publicly-financed homes are already known to be occupied by foreigners, are among those no longer supplying the figures.

Now MPs have called for an inquiry into the suppression of information on who gets council and housing association homes.

Labour’s Frank Field and Tory Nicholas Soames said in a statement on behalf of the cross-party Balanced Migration group: ‘This is a huge issue for many people.

‘The Government must now launch a full inquiry into what is going on in the allocation of social housing in London.’

The way subsidised homes have been  going to foreign citizens and not to families with long-standing local connections has become politically sensitive as immigration hits record levels and the recession has undermined ordinary people’s ability to afford to buy or rent private homes.

Under Tony Blair’s government, senior Labour MPs complained the way in which local families in East London had failed to get public housing while new migrants succeeded had swelled support for the British National Party.

Last year ministers acknowledged that a fifth of the nearly 800,000 publicly-owned homes in London are occupied by families and individuals who are citizens of other countries and not of Britain.

The report from the Migrationwatch think tank said that local authorities in London are now  disclosing the nationality of new tenants for fewer than half the homes they let.

Four authorities – Greenwich, Hackney, Lambeth and Newham – have declined to take part in the Government’s count of social housing lettings even though it is a legal requirement for them to do so.

Two more councils, Ealing and Haringey, where there are high numbers of foreign citizens in social housing, have obscured their latest figures by claiming high numbers of tenants refuse to say what their nationality is.

The report said that since waiting lists for social housing are ten times longer than the number of homes made available each year, only a small proportion of families that ask will ever get a house from a council or a housing association.

Migrationwatch added: ‘It is important to be clear that the debate should be about foreign nationals, not people who are foreign born, who should be treated like any other British citizen.’

Its chairman Sir Andrew Green said: ‘It is deeply unsatisfactory that the information on new lets should be so chaotic given the huge importance of this issue to so many families.

The Government must make the nationality question compulsory. This could provide the basis for a renewed debate on the criteria by which social housing should be allocated.’

Coalition ministers have made some changes to social housing allocation rules since 2010, with the aim of giving a greater claim to families with close connections to a local area.

Councils in London let 404,000 houses and flats while state-subsidised housing associations, which do declare the nationality of tenants, have 376,000.

Before the recession Whitehall calculations said that the cost to taxpayers of each socially-owned house or flat was on average £62,000. The figure suggests social housing in London has cost taxpayers almost £50billion.


Australia: Immigration review exposes risk of failure

Chaotic immigration bureaucracies seem to be the norm in most countries

THE crisis-ridden Immigration Department is poorly managed, its workers mistrust each other and its executives' financial illiteracy poses serious risks, an independent review has warned.

The frank report, written by a panel of government and business specialists, also describes a culture of buck-passing, in which few staff take responsibility for problems.

The review of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), overseen by the federal Public Service Commission, found weaknesses in each of the 10 areas it assessed and offered little praise for the leaders of the 10,000-strong workforce.

It warned the department remained at risk of "another high-profile failure" such as the illegal detention of Australian citizens Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon, which prompted government inquiries in 2005.

Immigration's long-serving secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, left the post late last year to head the Agriculture Department. His replacement, Martin Bowles, said he accepted the findings and agreed there was "significant room for improvement".

"I am confident [the department] will be a better agency for our staff, for our clients and for the government as a result of this capability review."

The review team, led by the former mandarin Ken Matthews, acknowledged Immigration's work was complex and highly contentious compared with other agencies.

However, it found the department failed to plan or innovate effectively because it focused on reacting to crises.

It also said many senior executives believed "risks and issues are 'glossed over' to provide good news stories rather than delivering difficult messages".

The report told of a "heavily risk-averse" culture, in which basic decisions were "routinely escalated because there has been an excessive reliance on the risk-scanning intuition of a small number of senior people".

This "led to a low tolerance for error, with staff believing that their ideas will not be seriously considered by managers", it said.

While the department's mid-level executives were "proficient technical managers", their core management skills were "patchy", the report said.

"Managers, particularly [senior executives], do not always understand their financial management responsibilities, which poses serious risks."

Managers were also often unclear about their responsibilities, saying "they were not always sure who to go to and that 'there are so many fingers in the pie that no one owns the problem'."

The review found some public servants from other agencies had low regard for Immigration's senior executives, saying they were "not always present 'in the forums that matter', are slow to acknowledge risks and impacts on other portfolios, are not always open to ideas when consulting, and do not always represent the department as a whole".

A 2011 survey found 33 per cent of Immigration staff believed recruitment decisions were routinely not based on merit, a higher proportion than the public service average of 25 per cent.

The review said this "perception is discouraging and indicates mistrust among staff members".

Among its recommendations were greater support for managers and involving all staff, rather than a select few, "in the risk-scanning process".

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said the department had "made it very clear it made a number of changes" in response to the review.

"We're confident it will continue to make those improvements," he said.


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