Deputy Mayor of London, Richard Barnes

December 14th, 2011

As part of our Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal Leadership on Immigrant Integration, we are asking mayors and city leaders for their views on immigration, local initiatives and future plans.

Richard Barnes
Deputy Mayor of London

What work is London doing regarding refugees, migration and integration?

We developed the Mayor’s strategy for integration in London after taking office three and a half years ago. Called London Enriched, it identifies seven core themes of integration and it sets out broad objectives for each of them. The seven core themes are: English language; housing; employment, skills and enterprise; children and young people; community safety and cohesion; health; and community development.

Each year, I lead a group called the London Strategic Migration Partnership that agrees to an action plan for implementation by the partnership members. The partnership includes key regional bodies from all sectors and advice they’ve received from the migrant and refugee advisory panel, which is made up of community members – a whole range of community-based organizations are dealing with refugees and migrants. The Partnership includes the UK Border Agency. I get out and meet the grass root organizations as well. It is important to hear both sides of the coin and it’s best that they work in harmony.

Having a strategy is a success in itself. It sends out a clear message to Londoners that integration is important, sets out the Mayor’s vision for integration and provides a framework for making the partnership work on delivering that strategy. Getting people to sit and talk together is really important. We based the strategy on as much evidence as we could possibly gather.

Last year we commissioned a couple of evidence-based studies on migration and integration in London. We interviewed over one thousand refugees in London. We also initiated a project to highlight the role played by communities and organizations in assisting integration. The outcomes are obviously going to be long-term, or medium to long-term, rather than provide immediate tangible results.

I was really surprised by the lack of numbers, the lack of knowledge about the who, what and where [of the refugee population]. So the Mayor commissioned the London School of Economics to do a survey to find out how many people had been here more than 4.5 years, or had long term residence, who were considered irregular, or without any real status. They came back with a figure of over 500,000 living in London. If you take that figure, that is like [the population of] one and a half to two London boroughs. Put in those terms, people can understand it.

We have also brought together providers and commissioners of English ESOL, so they can agree on better strategies for not only improving the availability but also the quality of English instruction. This was done in the context of new policies and funding mechanisms. It is surprising how this varies across London, both in quality and outcomes.

Why it is that you feel immigration is important to London?

A city can not survive in isolation. London has always been a trading port, a trading city, right from the time the Romans first arrived here. We have always been a city of migration with an ebb and flow of people. The streets of London have always been painted gold with opportunities, attracting people from across the United Kingdom, across Europe, and from across the world. And it’s brought with it a richness and a diversity of attitude, an openness of attitude, not to mention the culinary opportunities and the music people share with us. Diversity has really lifted London. All the surveys we do of Londoners’ attitudes show us that they regard our diversity as one of London’s most important qualities.

Next year, it’s the 2012 Olympics and there are 43 different communities here in London with over 10,000 people in London. What that means is that 43 countries have communities of support for their teams already living in London!  This creates a vibrancy which you simply don’t find across the vast majority of cities.

There are over 300 languages spoken in London. London works at harnessing the challenges of integration – and I talk of integration, not assimilation, two vast differences. No one should deny their heritage; they should enjoy and celebrate it. They’ve chosen to live in this city as a place of safety, and a place of opportunities. And they must take part in two-way integration.

What has been the city’s most successful integration initiative to date?

That is the most difficult to measure, because the approach can’t be based primarily on specific initiatives for integration. We’ve got to aim for integration, inclusion and participation. The challenge is to ensure mainstream services and wider initiatives also include refugees and migrants.

We have the Team London project, which is a volunteering initiative. One of its priorities is to build stronger neighbourhoods with an emphasis on inclusion and contact between communities.

I remember when the Mayor [Boris Johnson] asked me to be responsible for this area [inclusion], I said, “You know, we’ll never be able to measure when we’re successful. We’ll only know when we failed.” And he laughed and said, “Yes.”

When there is a breakdown in community relationships, if there is violence on the streets of London, if communities are targeted for whatever reason, then we know we’re failing. That’s measurable.

What else is on the agenda for immigrant integration in London?

We are developing our implementation plan for Year Three of London Enriched which will be based on the seven core integration streams. The priority now is access to English and English-language training. And then promoting the role of community-led organizations and ensuring that mainstream services and initiatives are accessible to refugees and migrants. Not necessarily access to English via colleges, but should we be offering it in schools where mums take kids and could be spending time there learning. We need to be more imaginative. That’s our challenge.

What practice or program would you like to bring to London next, and is it inspired by any other city?

I recently came back from Oslo, from a diversity and communities conference. They’re asking us what we are doing in London. People are looking to us for advice, help, inspiration, experience, simply because of the sheer volume of work we are doing here.

We have also really engaged in the EUROCITIES project, which looks at the role of local and regional government in integration across Europe. Indeed, we were the lead on the signing of the Integrating Cities Charter here at city hall last spring, when 17 EU cities came together to sign this charter. We brought and wrote it for Europe so there could be a common approach, common objective to integration across Europe. That was one of the most inspiring things that we did. Such a vast range of cities coming together and agreeing on a broad charter is inspiration in itself. That’s what we’re all committed to,whatever the economic challenges that surrounds us.

Richard Barnes was leader of the Conservative Group of the London Assembly in the last administration and previously leader of the Conservative administration in London Borough of Hillingdon. He has a degree in economics from the University of Wales, and speaks a number of European languages and has a particular interest in Business Continuity and Resilience issues. Richard leads on the Mayoral social justice policies.

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