Syrian Resettlement Programme
Decision Maker: Internal Scrutiny Committee
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
The Chair introduced Saulo Cwerner (Equality and Cohesion Manager) who delivered a presentation regarding the Syrian Resettlement Programme.
The Committee was informed that the Government had committed to settle 20,000 Syrian Refugees over the next five years and that, following a series of discussions between Lancashire Chief Executives Group, it was agreed that Lancashire would resettle up to 500 refugees over the same period as a proportionate contribution to the overall national programme.
It was explained that the Home Office had communicated funding arrangements and noted that this would be supplied for a total of five years. Saulo conveyed that the funding provided had been more generous than previous resettlement programmes and it was anticipated that it would cover all costs of integrating refugees into the community. Members were informed that the financial contribution towards support of each individual was approximately £8,520, and additional funds would be added to the standard tariff for children (for children aged 3-4, £2,250; for children aged 5-18, £4,500).
Regarding how funding was provided by the Home Office, it was highlighted that 22% of the total funding per year for a refugee would be received on their day of arrival, followed by six equal installments every two months. Moreover, it was noted that social care costs would be paid separately to this funding and would be paid on an incurred basis, or from an individual's assessment outcome.
Reference was made to property with it stated that this was required to be fully furnished prior to a refugees arrival to ensure housing was fit for purpose. It was elaborated that refugees would be welcomed and assisted at the airport, supplied with a package containing groceries and some cash to enable them to avoid any financial difficult prior to receiving the money they were entitled to. Regarding benefits, it was explained that refugees would be entitled to receive mainstream benefits which were separate from the local authority funding package.
Saulo informed the Committee about integration support, stating that the funding would be utiltised to cover the cost of English language tuition and to fund interpretation and translation services to enable refugees to communicate adequately. It was explained that the refugee's support would be fully managed and staff involved with the programme would receive training, and also a formal reporting system would be put in place to account for any incidents that required attention.
It was noted that all 15 local authorities in Lancashire were participating in the programme. Involvement, it was conveyed, would be on a 'rota basis' to enable efficient delivery and to ensure an equal dissipation of refugees in the various areas, therefore five local authorities in Lancashire would be participating in each year of the programme and this would be coordinated by the county council as the lead authority.
The Committee was informed that a planning group had been set up between the participating local authorities, the first of which to take place on 10 March, 2016, where a delivery model and timeline would be agreed on. It was highlighted that the first arrivals were anticipated to arrive in the summer of 2016 as there were a range of issues that required negotiation in the meantime.
It was expressed that there may be some financial implications for the county council due to the structure of payments from the Home Office, as they planned to pay arrears. This, it was noted, would mean that the county council would have short-term financial implications until the Home Office provided the funds. Saulo noted that discussions had taken place with Finance and Commissioning to identify the best way forward, and the proposals would be taken to Management Team and the relevant Cabinet Member for agreement.
Finally, it was stated that it was not anticipated that services would be delivered by LCC with most of the work being commissioned externally. It was noted that costs could be involved with officer time around project management, commissioning and procurement but these would be charged against the funding grant supplied by the Home Office.
The Chair thanked Saulo for delivering the presentation and invited questions and comments from the Committee.
CC Liz Oades queried whether funding was ring-fenced in order for it be identifiable from other central funding. Saulo Cwerner explained that the provenience of the money was from overseas development aid and was a dedicated grant which was ring-fenced and monitored by the Home Office. It was noted that there was flexibility in terms of how the grant could be used within the remit of its dedicated purpose.
CC Liz Oades stated that Government needed to provide more clarity around the funding as soon as possible. The Chair therefore suggested that a letter be penned from the Committee requesting further information from the relevant Minister.
The Committee agreed to the Chair's proposal.
CC George Wilkins stated that it was his understanding that the Government were selecting people from the United Nations refugee camps in North Syria, and asked how family units were comprised. Saulo Cwerner elucidated that it varied from case to case, some were single parents, and some were larger families. However, the Government had been clear about the benefit cap for supporting very large families. Regarding the selection process, it was explained that the Home Office worked with international organisations to identify families with the most complex needs and therefore required resettlement. The Committee were informed that LCC, working in conjunction with CCG's and other partners, would assess whether Lancashire had the infrastructure to support particular families, and therefore prior information was supplied to ensure that needs were catered for as some refugees would have complex health and social care needs.
CC George Wilkins asked what rationale had been applied to the geographical placement of refugees, stating that in previous programmes resettled people would be clustered together rather than spread across the county. Saulo Cwerner stated that the rationale was for all local authorities in the United Kingdom to participate in the process, and refugees would settle in smaller groups over a larger geographical footprint than previous programmes.
CC Clare Pritchard queried whether Lancashire would be receiving 500 individuals, or 500 families over the next five years. It was explained that 500 individuals would be resettled in Lancashire over the next five years.
CC Clare Pritchard asked who would be responsible for social care costs for refugees after funding had ceased. It was conveyed that social care costs would be picked up by the county council after the five year integration period.
CC Clare Pritchard stated that there could be long-term financial implications for the county council due to a cap on council tax benefit repayments from Government. Therefore, it was queried whether local authorities would be fully compensated, or only to the cap. Saulo Cwerner explained that he did not have the information, however this would be raised at a meeting with the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), the Job Centre and a Home Office representative on 10 March, 2016. Therefore, following this meeting the answer would be provided to the Committee.
CC Clare Pritchard expressed concern that schools may not have the resources to cope with the complex needs that resettled children may possess, and therefore asked if funding would be provided for schools to employ additional teaching assistants if providing tuition to refugees. Saulo Cwerner explained that the additional money for children would be utilised for educational support.
CC Alyson Barnes noted that some district councils did not have responsibility for housing in their area as it had been transferred to other organisations, therefore it was queried how the situation was to be managed. Saulo Cwerner stated some districts had been talking to local housing associations and other district councils had been reliant on private landlords. It was expressed that this would be discussed further at a meeting between participating districts and unitaries.
CC Alyson Barnes asked if support would be provided to refugees to help them to navigate the care system and therefore ensure they received the help and support they required. Saulo Cwerner elucidated that support would be provided via helping refugees to claim benefits, signposting and helping to avoid any issues. It was noted that awareness would be raised with the DWP and the Job Centre to ensure the benefits system did not create any barriers.
CC Clare Pritchard queried if in-work benefits could be claimed by refugees. Saulo Cwerner explained that the in-work benefits agreement the Government had with the EU did not apply to refugees from Syria, as a non-EU country, and therefore they could be claimed.
CC George Wilkins queried whether, in the event that the situation diffused in Syria, there was provision for refugees to return to Syria. Saulo Cwerner explained that there was not a repatriation programme for refugees, however there was a voluntary repatriation programme for failed Asylum Seekers which had been operating for a number of years. However, it was expressed that the likelihood was that if they wanted to return it would be via their own means.
CC George Wilkins asked if psychological help would be provided to refugees considering the trauma they had been subjected to due to the war. Saulo Cwerner explained that a refugee's needs would be assessed in the refugee camps and if Lancashire's infrastructure could not cater for their needs, the Home Office would be informed that the refugee would be better suited elsewhere in the country. It was stated that Lancashire Care Foundation Trust did have a trauma unit but this had limited capacity.
CC David Westley asked if the English language course to be provided for refugees was compulsory as communication was key to successful integration, and also queried if outcomes would be monitored. Saulo Cwerner explained that Lancashire Adult Learning had been approached to determine the financial implications of providing ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses for refugees. It was expressed that the aim was for refugees to gain a grasp of English within the first year of tuition and that once everything had been agreed and costed, a strong ESOL proposal would be put forward. It was also clarified that progression would be monitored as part of a refugee's integration plan, along with employment and other areas.
CC Carl Crompton noted that there was huge demand for social housing in the county and therefore queried how confident the County Council was of securing housing for refugees. Saulo Cwerner explained that due to the relatively small number of properties required to assist the programme, it was anticipated that there would be no problems with securing housing.
CC Alyson Barnes expressed concern that the situation could be spun in the media and therefore expressed that work to counter this was required as this could cause community cohesion issues. Saulo noted that a media strategy would be devised to manage the information that was shared with communities and media outlets.
CC Vivien Taylor noted that the report stated the outlined district areas where refugees would be resettled was 'subject to consultation' and asked what was implied by this statement. Saulo Cwerner explained that the report had been written prior to the end of the consultation period and the particular districts noted had now fully agreed to participate.
The Chair thanked Saulo for the report and presentation delivered to the Committee and requested that an update be provided in the autumn of 2017.
i. The Committee write to the Government requesting further information around funding arrangements for the Syrian Resettlement Programme.
ii. The Committee be provided with further information regarding council tax benefit repayments to the county council for resettled Syrian refugees in Lancashire.
iii. The Committee be provided with an update in autumn 2017 on the progress of the programme.
Date of decision: 26/02/2016
Decided at meeting: 26/02/2016 - Internal Scrutiny Committee