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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Friday, 20 January 2006, 16:52 GMT
Poles come to Crewe
Tim Whewell
By Tim Whewell
BBC Newsnight

Crewe's a town built around a railway station. Millions of people pass through, but most are only changing trains.

Crewe train station
Few new arrivals in Crewe see past the railway platforms
Few new arrivals ever make it to the streets beyond the platforms - or at least they didn't until recently.

Suddenly, Crewe - once a fairly self-contained town of 48,000 people - is experiencing unprecedented social change.

In just over a year and a half, according to the local council, at least 3,000 incomers have arrived in the town. They already make up 6% of the population - and they're all from one country - Poland.

EU expansion

The influx of migrant workers is a direct consequence of the eastern expansion of the European Union in May 2004. But it's come as a complete shock to those responsible for planning local services. And it's a development the Government apparently failed to predict.

There are signs that Crewe's experience may be being repeated in other towns across the country.

A Polish passport
EU expansion has triggered the influx of Polish migrants
At the last census, less than 2% of Crewe's population were from ethnic minorities.

But that began to change when the town's biggest recruitment agency - Advance Personnel - discovered the big packing, distribution and food-processing plants in the area couldn't get enough workers locally.

Unemployment in Crewe, at 1.6%, is well below the national average - and few people are interested in low-wage, part-time jobs.

Changes

Six months before EU enlargement, Advance Personnel's managing director, Jason Canny, decided to open an office in Poland - the largest of the accession states.

Jason Canny
It's quite mind-blowing the changes we've gone through as a town
Jason Canny
With unemployment there reaching almost 20% - and with only three Western European states, the UK, Sweden and Ireland, ready to take Polish workers without restriction - he expected to attract plenty of applicants. Even so, he was overwhelmed by the response.

Jason estimates 70 to 80% of the Polish migrants in Crewe have passed through his agency.

"I've seen a lot of changes in Crewe," he says, "and I've been personally responsible - or at least my company has. It's quite mind-blowing the changes we've gone through as a town."

Jason's company also recruits workers for firms in many other parts of Britain. Based on his experiences, he believes "the migrating workforce that has come into the UK is far bigger than people realise. Not just in our area, but nationally".

Integration

In Crewe, most of the first wave of workers were single men living in rented houses provided by recruitment agencies. But after a year or so, some started to bring their families.

The local authority didn't realise what was happening until Polish children started to arrive, mostly unannounced, in Crewe's schools last autumn.

Polish Delicatessen in Crewe
Demand has seen the arrival of Crewe's first Polish delicatessen
"I assumed initially that the handful who'd contacted us would be the only ones we'd be assimilating into the school. That it would stop. But it didn't stop," says Christine Garbett, head of St Mary's Catholic Primary.

She says her 23 Polish children have caused no problems in the school. They've integrated well - and already learned a lot of English.

Meanwhile, Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council have started organising advice sessions and a community association for the incomers. But it's had to arrange the new services without any advance warning, experience or extra resources.

"The government were saying nothing," says Councillor Gwyn Griffiths. "There was no specific advice to local authorities; the government said the impact on any individual area would be very limited. And that's not proved to be the case."

Surveys

According to the latest figures - up to September 2005 - 277,000 migrants from the new EU states in Eastern and Central Europe had registered for work in the UK.

But research among migrants suggests that may not be a reliable indicator of the total number here. The Association of Labour Providers, a group mainly representing recruitment agencies, believes there may be twice as many migrants as the offical figures suggest.

I have more time to spend with my family that I don't have to spend struggling for money
Adam Kolasinski
There's no means yet of knowing how many will settle permanently. A study published by the Home Office in 2003 suggested net immigration from Poland and all the other ex-Communist accession states would be between 5,000 and 13,000 a year.

Surveys in those countries, it said, "suggest that the UK is not a very popular migration destination."

But if the experience of Crewe is typical of others across the country, the government's calculations may be seriously adrift.

Most of the Poles Newsnight spoke to in the town were considering staying for good.

Adam Kolasinski is trained in maths, administration, computing and teaching - but for several months he couldn't find a job in Poland.

Now, he's working near Crewe on a production line making oven-ready pizzas. But he's earning five or six times the average Polish wage.

"I'm convinced I'll stay in England," he says. "Life is good, kids grow up normally. I have more time to spend with my family that I don't have to spend struggling for money."

Home, Poles say, is wherever you find your bread.

Tim Whewell's report can be seen on Newsnight at 2230GMT on Friday, 20 January on BBC TWO.



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