Tories attack "too high" immigration figures

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Indy Politics

The Government is panicking over immigration, and throwing money at the issue is not enough, Conservative leader David Cameron said today.

A net immigration figure of 200,000 is "too high" and the Tories want to see a substantial cut in it, he said.

He spoke as the cross-party Local Government Association (LGA) called for migration statistics to be overhauled and for a new £250 million-a-year fund to help local public services cope with the influx.

Council leaders said data such as GP registrations, National Insurance numbers and schools census records should be used to give a more accurate picture of the number of foreigners.

It comes after confusion over Government figures stoked a row over the accuracy of official data on migrant workers.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears stressed today that the Government had given significant additional resources to help councils cope, adding: " On top of that we have also announced £50 million to help local communities manage cohesion and promote integration."

But Mr Cameron said on GMTV: "Much more important is to get control of the immigration, rather than throw your hands up in the air and sort of panic, like the Government has done this week, and start having to promise more money."

Mr Cameron, who called for a cap on non-EU economic migrants, accepted that Britain benefited from immigration.

But he added: "I think immigration is too high, we do benefit from it, but we would benefit if actually we had slightly lower levels of net immigration.

"Currently about 200,000 people, net, are coming into this country each year, I think that's too high, and we would like to see a substantial cut in that."

Mr Cameron said there was pressure on schools, hospitals and housing.

"There's no doubt that our population is growing at a very fast rate. Part of that is from immigration, and we need a proper debate about that."

The LGA's report found:

:: Many schools have difficulty coping with frequently changing populations from a wide range of cultural backgrounds;

:: Children of some migrant workers are working longer hours than permitted by law;

:: There are too few English language classes;

:: Some hospitals are failing to claw back the cost of treating citizens from the countries which joined the European Union in May 2004 - known as the "A8";

:: Too many A8 nationals go to hospital A&E for treatment rather than registering with a doctor, because they do not understand how healthcare operates in Britain;

:: Many migrants are living in homes which are in a poor state of repair, and sometimes a fire risk;

:: The numbers of A8 migrants claiming homelessness help or being rehoused is increasing in some areas.

LGA chairman Sir Simon Milton said: "Official statistics on how many migrants are coming and where they are going are inadequate.

"No one has a real grasp of where, or for how long, migrants are settling, so much-needed funding for local services isn't getting to the right places.

"The speed and scale of migration, combined with the shortcomings of official population figures, is placing pressure on funding for services like children's services and housing. This can lead to unnecessary tension and conflict."

He added: "The evidence shows that industries such as fruit picking and residential care would risk collapse without migrant labour.

"The problem is that the money that is being generated isn't necessarily finding its way back down to the local level."

Ms Blears said: "The effects of migration can put a strain on public services, especially when there is a large movement into an area in a short space of time and we recognise that some individual local authorities are experiencing more challenges than others.

"The LGA have put forward some challenging questions and we will continue our existing work with local government on the best way to manage them.

"It is important to remember that Government has already given significant additional resources - an average 1% real terms increase per year over the next three which will deliver an increase of more than £960 million in the first year alone - to support councils.

"On top of that we have also announced £50 million to help local communities manage cohesion and promote integration."

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