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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 03:58 GMT 04:58 UK
Analysis: The impact of migrants
By Dominic Casciani
Home affairs reporter, BBC News

Cambridgeshire Police's polish leaflet
Welcome to the county - Polish greeting from the police
Come live in sunny eco-friendly Northstowe, the adverts will soon read - a new town planned for the edge of Cambridge.

But while the carbon footprint of the 10,000-home development promises to be small - there is another related issue worrying many in the county: what growing immigration is doing to the county.

Cambridgeshire Police's Chief Constable Julie Spence has become the latest public servant to wade into a national debate over the impact of immigration on local services.

Her argument, supported by the county's policing watchdog, is that Whitehall is failing to appreciate the dramatic demographic changes in Cambridgeshire, leaving police with neither the cash nor the manpower to deal with the challenges of migration.

It's a warning found in many British local authorities at the forefront of the unprecedented migration of workers in and out of the UK.

While the economic benefits of growth are clear we need to maintain the basic public services infrastructure which means increasing the number of officers we have
Chief Constable Julie Spence

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Some say they can't plan properly for schools; others are worried about the strain on the local infastructure and housing. In Cambridgeshire, Mrs Spence says the issue is policing.

In its report, Cambridgeshire Police says that migration is having a greater effect on the county's demographic profile than natural change.

The East of England has seen more than 80,000 Eastern Europeans register to work in the region since 2004 - with more from other nations beyond the EU. A conservative estimate from two years ago put their value to the local economy at about 360m.

But the police force predicts more migration-led change, with Peterborough alone predicted to grow by almost a tenth within a decade.

By 2016, the county is expected to have 69,000 more people from overseas, most of them presumed to be Eastern European workers.

Foreign-born residents may come to comprise a tenth of the population. While that's still very much a minority, it will represent a substantial cultural change for a part of the UK which was largely bypassed in the post-war era of mass migration.

And while some of these figures are speculative best guesses, the underlying appeal is for solutions before the problems become harder to fix in a few years time.

Public service budgets

Police budgets are set by a complicated formula which takes into account the size of the local population.

The problem is data on who is coming and going isn't exactly accurate and the 2001 census, which underpins calculations, is out of date.

Graph of where the migrants are working

For instance, the force says it now spends more than 800,000 on translation and deals with almost 100 languages. This has been a "huge impact" on its resources, it says.

But beyond the budgets at police headquarters, there is a deeper concern: social impact.

Officers have seen an increase in crimes they can link directly to migration - cannabis production and human trafficking being two.

While these may remain largely hidden from public view, issues such as overcrowded houses are not - and it is often the smallest of problems that leads to the greatest local concern.

Officers worry about cracks in community cohesion such as racially-motivated crimes and how they make contact with people who come from countries where anyone in a uniform is considered a corrupt and untrustworthy villain.

Tough challenges

In all, Cambridgeshire Police's report is grim reading. It points to some of the toughest challenges posed by an age of unprecedented migration - movement that on the one hand worries people but on the other plays a crucial part in the success of local economies.

Migrant workers picking celery in Cambridgeshire
Migrant workers: Publicity campaigns have helped understanding

So is this a problem for Whitehall or local areas to solve? The answer, policymakers increasingly believe, lies partly with both.

At the national level all three political parties have talked about methods to measure and monitor the impact of migration.

The Home Office recently launched its Migrant Impacts Forum, a body of experts advising ministers on how to manage the effect of immigration on public services.

It's far too early to assess how well this body will do - but ministers have conceded that before its inception there was "no formal system" for assessing the effect of migration on public services.

But it's at local level that some of the really delicate work has to be done.

Community building

Peterborough, one of the areas which prompted most concern in the Cambridgeshire Police report, has previously experienced rises in community tensions, partly thanks to the way the dispersal of some asylum seekers was handled and because the city had no history of mass migration.

We have got to get to the people who are most affected before they become disaffected ... tension monitoring is not a one-off exercise - you need to build up an understanding of how the different communities work or don't work together
Community cohesion expert Prof Ted Cantle

But it has also been praised by local government experts for findings innovative ways of building community cohesion in the face of rapid change.

The city's approach came down to a frank public debate on the demands of the economy - coupled with schemes to help resolve tensions between local people and newcomers.

It's this kind of approach that experts on community cohesion say is vital: Create sophisticated local solutions to genuine fears and suspicious - but also ensure the police and others become better at spotting the warning signs of rising inter-ethnic tensions.

Cambridgeshire Police itself has already taken a leaf out of the book of some other authorities by producing literature on the nuts and bolts of British society for newcomers.

Its 20-page guide to the law is available in 14 languages. It covers absolute basics like the 999 number, through cultural issues like spitting or drinking alcohol in the street, to the key laws on driving and so on.

Where these tactics have been tried in other towns and cities they have been shown to work.

They don't solve bigger migration-related issues such as people trafficking or foreign worker exploitation - but they have been shown to play a crucial role in greasing the wheels of community building and generating an informed local debate on the realities of global economic migration.

Cambridgeshire Police no longer believes it is a sleepy rural force patrolling quaint country byways.

Like many areas touched by the new migration, its leaders see the county as a bustling cosmopolitan centre of change - but it's change they think needs more government help in being managed.


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