‘Refugees Welcome in Exeter’ petition discussed at #ECCcouncil meeting

On Tuesday 20 October there was a full meeting of Exeter City Council in the Guildhall

Minute 57 of the meeting covers the Executive meeting where Cllr Hannah Packham presented a petition to the Leader of the Council, Cllr Pete Edwards:

92 ‘REFUGEES WELCOME IN EXETER’
A petition ‘Refugees Welcome in Exeter’ with over 1,300 signatories was presented to Executive by Councillor Packham who had been handed the petition at the rally held in support of helping refugees on the Cathedral Green on Saturday 12 September 2015. The petition urged the Council to respond to the current Refugee crisis.

Councillor Packham commented that all Local Authorities had a part to play in housing the refugees and raised concerns regarding the grants from Central Government which was only for one year.

The Leader acknowledged receipt of the petition and moved that the petition be sent to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to make them aware of the concerns of residents of Exeter regarding the Refugee crisis.

This was unanimously agreed by Members.

A Member raised concerns regarding the funding available from Central Government to support Refugees, which is for one year only.

RESOLVED the Exeter City Council forward the petition to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to make them aware of Exeter residents concerns regarding the Refugee crisis and seeking the appropriate funding for Local Authorities to meet the Government’s commitment to accepting more Refugees.

In respect of this minute Minute 92  and in response to a request for an update from Hannah,  the Leader stated that he had written to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and, to date, had received holding replies.

It was noted however that the city would be taking eight refugee families (totalling 32 people), these families to be housed in the private sector with funding coming from central government.

The minutes also note that:

In response to a Member, the Portfolio Holder for Customer Access [Cllr Heather Morris] commented that the Council was working with military based charities to support veterans and ex- service personnel.

This was relating to comments by an opposition member asking why we are supporting refugees and not being seen to help the homeless – and in particular, ex-service personnel – that are on the streets of Exeter.

When asking the question, the elected member made reference to the fact that the comment could be construed as racist – I, for one, thought that they were just ill-informed and wrote to the councillor to inform him of some of the facts.

I am sorry that you felt moved to suggest that your comments on the Syrian Refugee Crisis could be thought of as racist – I would suggest that they were ill-informed.

On Monday of this week, the PM made a statement to the House of Commons about the European Council’s meeting during 15-16 October.

In this, Mr Cameron pointed out he discussed a mechanism for distributing migrants (refugees and asylum seekers) across the EU.

On 7 September, the Prime Minister announced a significant expansion of the Syrian Vulnernable Person Scheme  – a scheme that has been running for several years

The Government intends to resettle up to 20,000 refugees from Syria’s neighbouring countries over the next five years. However, it does not intend to offer resettlement to Syrian refugees already in Europe, or to participate in the EU’s proposed refugee resettlement and relocation schemes.

Initially funded for the first year, there have been recent hints of additional funding for subsequent years, although central Government continues to be very vague about this extra funding. [DOWNLOAD full report held in the House of Commons Library]

Much of this is detailed in an excellent primer on Refugees, Asylum and Immigration published by the Local Government Information Unit

There is also a brilliant set of FAQ on the Syrian Resettlement Programme from The Home Office.

This briefing makes clear that the refugees will NOT be housed in any social housing – either ECC’s own stock or by housing associations.

The Local Government Association also has a set of information – a one-stop source of information for councillors

There was  also a was a letter from the Chair, Cllr Gary Porter which made clear that although many members of the public had offered rooms in their homes (indeed these offers were being made during the Exeter Welcomes Refugees rally mentioned by Cllr Hannah Packham)  these offers will not be taken up.

It was made quite clear by the Leader last night, and on many other occasions (such as the Executive meeting on 15/0915), that the full burden of housing refugees in Devon shouldn’t fall solely on the large cities of Exeter and Plymouth – yet the Leaders of the neighbouring local authorities seem very reluctant to even talk, let alone commit to assisting these vulnerable persons.

I am sure the Leader would appreciate any leverage you and Cllr Leadbetter as can bring to encourage these Tory councils to engage in these discussions.

I note you asked why should refugees take preference over other homeless initiatives, especially involving military veterans. I for one don’t see it as an either/or choice – compassion and understanding is needed for both.

I hope you noticed that the minutes of Scrutiny Committee – Community that we approved at Full Council last night included a report on the review of the Council’s policy for allocated social housing.

The report made mention of giving additional priority to new categories, including reaffirming our commitment to military personnel.

It needs to be pointed out that the whole issue of providing social homes for rent (by both ECC and local housing associations) will be seriously compromised by the Chancellor’s recent announcement to reduce social rents by 1% year on year over the next 4 years. Themove will cost this council somewhere in the region of £8m – and mean that the Council Own Build programme is likely to be scaled back, if not placed on hold.

In your comments you seemed to link rough sleeping to the difficulty of armed forces personnel finding homes.

To be clear, rough sleeping makes up about 5% of the homeless applications being dealt with by ECC.

At the beginning of the month, the Council took on a new provider – Julian House – to carry out assertive homeless outreach work. The hope is that Julian House will have a better engagement with rough sleepers on the streets.

Many of these matters are being investigated by the Homelessness Task & Finish Group chaired by Cllr John Harvey.

And I am aware of the excellent work of Cllr Heather Morris who is using her new role of Lead Cllr and Prortfolio Holder to engage with the many and varied agencies and charities that help tackle homelessness across the city.

However it needs to be pointed out that much of this work is under construct threat of cuts – I am aware the Homelessness Prevention Grant that contributes to the approx £350,000 that ECC spends on this work is one of those currently under threat.

I hope that the above sets the background to responses and challenges (both locally and nationally) to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Best wishes,

Paul

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