The leader of Rochdale council has urged the government to ensure every area of the country is taking in its fair share of asylum seekers, claiming the current policy ‘continues to disproportionately affect’ the borough.
Councillor Neil Emmott’s angry letter to the home secretary comes after migrants were recently moved into hotels in the borough against the council’s wishes.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands the local authority was also given very little notice ahead of around 80 asylum seekers who arrived late last month.
Earlier this year, the government told councils they would be expected to take a share of asylum seekers under a new system of ‘full dispersal’, which aims to reduce the number living in temporary accommodation.
The Home Office says it is dealing with an ‘unprecedented increase in asylum cases’ but continues to ‘ensure that the accommodation provided is safe, secure and leaves no one destitute’.
However, in a letter to Priti Patel, Coun Emmott writes: “We await the implementation of your Full Dispersal Plan and are aware that the detail of the policy is being worked through but recently, against our wishes, hotels in our area have been requisitioned to house people seeking asylum via illegal routes across the English Channel.
“Notwithstanding the fact that we recognise the need to find accommodation for recent arrivals, we find ourselves again asking what changes have been made to the system and how other areas that have not previously taken part are contributing.”
Last year, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham accused the government of ‘riding roughshod’ over Greater Manchester leaders by housing asylum seekers in hotels with ‘minimal notice’ to local councils.
And while Coun Emmott’s maintains he is ‘extremely proud’ of the fact that Rochdale has supported large numbers of migrants he says he is ‘frustrated’ that other local authorities have not done the same
He adds: “As I’m sure you are also aware, this frustration is also being felt by our local communities who are well aware that this situation is not being replicated evenly across the country.”
The council leader’s letter has also warned the home secretary that the position is ‘not sustainable’.
It continues: “We therefore request with urgency that your government speeds up implementing the Full Dispersal Plan to ensure that asylum seekers are distributed in a way that does not threaten to undermine public services and public support for the entire programme.
“The new dispersal policy will only work if it is properly funded and this should include funding to local authorities to help mitigate pressures on local services.”
Coun Emmott concludes with a point about the government’s ‘levelling up agenda’.
“If this remains a priority, it should include the dispersal programme which continues to be targeted at areas of the country that are least able to support it,” he writes.
The council leader’s comments echo a statement he made in August last year in which he stressed it was important ‘this humanitarian responsibility is shared equally with local authorities across the country’.
Speaking as US and coalition troops withdrew from Afghanistan, he also urged the government to ‘ensure that councils are given the appropriate resources to enable them to support people properly’.
The Home Office said it did not comment on operational arrangements for individual hotels. However, the LDRS understands that reports of 81 asylum seekers being put up in a hotel within the borough last month are accurate.
The hotel is not being named on Home Office advice and for the safety of people staying and working at the accommodation.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are dealing with an unprecedented increase in asylum cases but despite this we continue to ensure that the accommodation provided is safe, secure and leaves no one destitute.
“All local authority areas are expected to participate in full dispersal to help end the unacceptable use of hotels, and have been invited to share their plans with the Home Office by September 6.”