Early this year, members of Northumberland County Council’s decision-making cabinet expressed a willingness to help refugees but were concerned about the county’s capacity to accept them. This led to the setting-up of a taskforce, or working group, to look at the various issues.
At this morning’s meeting, a proposal was put before the cabinet – and received unanimous support – to make an offer to the Home Office to accept up to 12 families per year.
The council will make an offer to the Home Office under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (SVPRS) to accept four families at any one time, with the arrival every four months of a further four families.
This will equate to 12 families (approximately 48 people based upon four people per family) being accepted each year. Cramlington has been identified as suitable for the first tranche of placements, which are likely to be in September or October this year.
Over a five-year period, the council would therefore support 60 families and 240 people under this scheme. This would be in addition to any people placed under the widening dispersal scheme, which has not used Northumberland in the past.
Coun Allan Hepple said: “Northumberland has and has had a history of supporting vulnerable people and this is an extension of that.” Referring to the Prime Minister’s announcement about accepting Syrian refugees, he added: “This is about us taking our fair share. It won’t cost the council anything, it’s completely funded by the Government.”
Based upon a family of four (two adults and two children both of school age), the council would receive £36,080 per family in year one, which equates to £144,320 for each cohort of families received. Annually, the authority would receive funding under the SVPRS of £432,960 in year one from the Home Office to receive 12 families.
A report to councillors added that ‘a costed proposal over the rolling period of the scheme (a total of nine years) has determined that the annual costs to establish and run the service will be covered by funding provided by the Home Office, with any surplus in years one to five used to support years six to nine of the scheme when family numbers, and therefore income, has reduced’.
Coun Ian Swithenbank said he was very supportive, but pointed out that the use of council homes to house the refugees could cause issues as people are already ‘fighting tooth and nail’ to get a home. “We are trying to avoid conflict,” he added.
Coun Susan Dungworth, one of the councillors who had been on the working group, responded: “Our community is better than we sometimes give it credit for and I think there will be lots of people who are pleased that we are providing refuge to Syrian people.”
Coun Robert Arckless added: “I hope we can be better than what I perceive to be a minority. We are very fortunate to live in a country which is safe and secure.”
In response to a question from Coun Paul Kelly, it was confirmed that people on the SVPRS have official refugee status and are able to work.