Posts Tagged ‘Matt Cavanagh’

Time for a more honest debate on immigration control

23/07/2012, 04:28:38 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Today’s report by the Home Affairs Select Committee into the UK Border Agency makes uncomfortable reading for the Government. The report identifies a series of new “backlogs” building up – unsuccessful asylum seekers, visa overstayers, and foreign-national offenders who should be deported at the end of their sentence – in total numbering almost 300,000.

There are continuing management failings at the agency, and in the way it works with other parts of government, and the Committee is right to highlight them.

But the truth is that while in the early 2000s, this was a failing organisation (not “fit for purpose”, if you prefer) by 2010 it had been dragged up to a roughly similar level of competence and morale to the rest of government.

There are worrying signs that it is slipping backwards, in particular due to spending cuts. The coalition’s line is that the staff being made redundant will be replaced by new technology, but the synchronisation is wrong: rather than waiting for the technology to prove itself before taking the dividend in reduced staff numbers, the cuts started at the same time as the technology programme was mired in delays.

Some of the biggest challenges, however, are beyond the control of the agency – and even that of the government as a whole. Take the issue of removing those who have overstayed their visas, or had their asylum claim rejected, or were here legally but then committed a serious crime which should see them deported. This is one of those problems which, in opposition, both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats colluded with the media in presenting as easy to solve.

It is becoming increasingly clear that, in government, their performance has been no better than Labour’s – if anything slightly worse. The number of foreign national offenders removed at the end of their sentence, which rose each year from 2006 to 2009, has fallen each year since.

Today’s report highlights the growing backlog of visa overstayers, which the home office apparently has no strategy for dealing with – and warns that the backlog of unsuccessful asylum cases, recently cleared, may be starting to build up again.

This is an area where the policy and politics of immigration would be greatly improved if all parties decided to join together and be honest with the media and the public about the constraints on what government can realistically achieve.


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Is Cameron feeling vulnerable on crime?

24/02/2012, 02:44:15 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The lead story (£) in today’s Times tells us that David Cameron is feeling stung by the accusation that his government lacks a coherent policy on crime and law and order. This accusation will be familiar to Labour Uncut readers, for example this piece last year, and more recently after the latest set of crime figures here.

Cameron’s response, we are told, is a new policy of “virtual prison” for offenders on community sentences, tagged and placed under curfew for up to 16 hours a day. But while “virtual prison” is an evocative new label, the policy itself is not new: it was announced in August.

On the inside pages, the Times home affairs expert Richard Ford does a better job of putting the story in context, reminding us that this is “yet another attempt, by yet another government”, to strengthen public confidence in alternatives to prison (similar attempts by the Brown government, for example, can be seen here and here).

The other element in today’s story is No 10’s apparent unhappiness with the Ministry of Justice, and speculation that it may be broken up – based on an article earlier in the week by the Times’ Rachel Sylvester, picked up today by ConservativeHome. Contrary to Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman, I think this is very unlikely – though we agree that “there are few less futile Whitehall activities than merging and unmerging Departments” (as I argued in relation to the plan announced earlier this week, to split up the UK Border Agency).

Structural reforms won’t do anything to help Cameron’s fundamental problem on crime and law and order, which is a lack of ideas. This was disguised temporarily by his ability to strike the right tone over the riots (as far as the majority of the public was concerned), after an initially sluggish response.


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Labour can punish the government’s complacency on crime

19/01/2012, 01:24:23 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The latest quarterly crime figures were published today. They include figures for recorded crime, and for the British Crime Survey (BCS), covering the 12 months to September 2011.

Recorded crime showed an overall fall, and a fall in most crime types – apart from robbery and theft, which rose by 4%. Robbery with a knife rose by 10%.

However, it is the British Crime Survey (BCS) which gives a more accurate picture of crime levels and trends, because it includes crimes not reported to the police, and has used the same methodology for thirty years. (The UK Statistics Authority impressed this point on the Conservatives before the election, and as they have now accepted it.) Today’s BCS figures estimate that overall crime rose by 4%, but this is not found to be statistically significant. The figures also show increases in all BCS categories, except vandalism and bicycle theft – but again, these are not found to be statistically significant.

The most important BCS finding, and the most important in today’s figures as a whole, is for the sub-set of “personal crime” – which includes violence, robbery and theft, and other “personal acquisitive crime”. This rose by 11% – a finding which is statistically significant.

Another notable point is the continuing trend of increasing public confidence that “the police and local council are dealing with the anti-social behaviour and crime issues that matter in the local area”. The trend in public confidence was rising for several years before the election, on the back of Neighbourhood Policing and other initiatives, and confidence is now at 57%. This directly refutes ministers’ repeated assertion that confidence in the police is falling – an assertion which has formed a large part of their justification for introducing elected Policing and Crime Commissioners.

Today’s statistics also include more detail on last summer’s riots, and on knife crime. They confirm that despite the high visibility of the riots, there is little effect on overall crime levels. Even in the areas concerned, looking only at the month of August, the share of total recorded crimes was relatively small: highest in Croydon and Haringey, at 14% of total crime, and between 5% and 10% in other affected areas. This equates to 1.5% of total crime in England and Wales in August, or around one tenth of one per cent of crime for the year. (more…)

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The government’s complacency about rising crime will hurt them in the end

22/10/2011, 04:00:55 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The government must have been grateful for the news of Gaddafi’s death this week, not just for the symbolic ‘closure’ of the Libya campaign, but also for distracting the media pack from a troubling set of quarterly crime figures, and from their own clumsy response to them.

When the previous set of quarterly figures came out, ministers tried to spin them as a ‘vindication of their reforms’, despite those reforms having hardly started – and despite the figures themselves being mixed at best. This time, ministers are trying to spin the figures as mixed, when in fact the bad news clearly outweighs the good.

The figures cover the year ending in June – so not including the riots – and show overall recorded crime down, though there were rises in recorded instances of serious sexual crimes, in some categories of theft, and in knife crime (though provisional figures for knife homicides are stable, at just over 200 per year). But – as the UK Statistics Authority impressed on the Conservatives before the election, and as they have now accepted – a far better guide to crime trends is provided by the British Crime Survey, which has used the same methodology for thirty years. The latest BCS results, published at the same time, estimate a 10% rise in burglary, a 7% rise in household acquisitive crime, a 7% rise in theft from the person, a 3% rise in robbery, and a 3% rise in violent crime. They also estimate an overall rise in crime of 2%, with the proviso that this overall rise, along with the apparent rises in several of the individual categories, is ‘not statistically significant’ – the phrase which a Downing Street spokesperson rather unfortunately seized on in trying to play down the figures.

It remains true, as I wrote after the last quarter’s results, that it is too early to be sure about the nature of the trend. This might be a blip, of the kind we saw in 2008-09 when the recession began, and when Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reacted to a much smaller increase in burglary by predicting a ‘recession crime wave’ – which actually turned out to be a rise of 1%, followed by a resumption of the falling trend. Or it might be a sign that the long downward trend since 1995 is flattening out, to be replaced by annual fluctuations. Or, the bad scenario, this might be the start of a belated surge in crime associated with the state of the economy, of the kind we saw in the early 1990s. (more…)

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If you’re not rich, you’re not coming in

11/10/2011, 04:11:28 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

For a man whose avowed aim is to reduce the salience of immigration as a political issue, David Cameron spends a lot of time talking about it. Yesterday’s speech was light on new policy, so we must assume the point was to send a message: that despite growing public scepticism – a recent YouGov poll found 78% of people thinking it “unlikely Cameron will deliver his immigration promises” – he remains personally committed to doing so. The strategic judgment must be, that while he is unlikely to hit his chosen target of reducing net migration levels to “tens of thousands” by 2015, his policies will have made enough of a dent that voters will feel that, in contrast to the other two parties, at least the Conservatives tried. For now, the coalition has settled into a pattern, where it suits both parties to pretend that it is the Liberal Democrats that have prevented greater progress, rather than the deeper structural problems with their approach – though this is unlikely to fool voters for long, and there are signs that the commentariat have rumbled it too.

Turning to the detail of the speech, there were some good things; some misleading claims and unanswered questions; and a reminder of two big underlying problems.

The good things included a careful, incremental approach to the complex issue of forced marriage (though it will be interesting to see how the planned consultation differs from previous ones on the same subject); and a greater emphasis on British history and culture in the “Life in the UK” citizenship test which Labour introduced in 2005. Another proposal, to stop people bringing in more than one spouse or partner in quick succession, is an example of a policy which in an ideal world would seem unnecessary and invasive, but in the real world is sadly necessary. Finally, there was the resonant line that “immigration can hurt the low paid and the low skilled, while the better off reap many of the benefits”. This contains enough truth to hurt, and is a line which Labour really only has itself to blame for allowing the Conservatives to own.

But alongside these good things, there were plenty of misleading claims. The first was on overall numbers, where Cameron said that; “There are early signs in the most recent figures that the reforms this government has brought in are beginning to reduce the overall figure.”

Well, it is true – as I noted in my analysis of the most recent immigration statistics for Labour Uncut – that “the latest quarterly figures to June 2011 [show] a slight fall in people coming from outside the EU for work, down 2.7% compared to the year ending April 2011”. Most of this is from the closure of the Tier 1 General route, designed for highly skilled migrants who are not tied to a particular job, but qualify on their individual merits (on which more below). But this is less than 1% of total immigration. Cameron would be better advised to wait until next year, by when the changes to the student visa system, however ill-advised in other respects, might have made a more serious impression on overall numbers.

The second misleading claim concerned the skill-level of migrants coming under the previous system. In his determination to present that system as a “complete failure”, Cameron said that:

“One study showed that about a third of those sampled only found low skilled roles working as shop assistants, in takeaways, and as security guards. When this government came into office, we ignored the rhetoric, looked hard at the reality and simply closed down the whole of the Tier 1 General route.”

At best, this is a highly selective use of the available evidence. The independent Migration Advisory Committee, a Labour innovation which the new government has sensibly retained and praised, said in its comprehensive report in November 2010, that in the Tier 1 General route – the route which Cameron is talking about here – over 90% were working in highly-skilled work (see para 3.68, p.88).

Turning to the unanswered questions, the first concerns the detail of the proposal that people wishing to sponsor a foreign national to come here as a spouse or partner should be required to put up a financial “bond”. This idea has been around for years: it was in Labour’s 2005 manifesto, but was shelved in 2008. One of the problems was that it is tricky to set the bond at the right level. If you set it too low, it looks like a gimmick. But if you set it at a level that would credibly offset the costs to the public purse of a migrant who does end up being a “significant burden on the taxpayer”, that would mean a bond of tens of thousands of pounds. Requiring that upfront raises very significant issues of fairness (on which more below). (more…)

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Don’t promise what you can’t deliver on immigration

26/08/2011, 11:21:00 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

Yesterday’s ONS figures are a reminder of the risks of politicians promising what they can’t deliver, particularly on an issue as emotive as immigration.

Before the election, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said immigration was out of control; afterwards, they said they would cut it dramatically. Neither was true.

The figures reinforce how stable immigration has been in recent years: non-British immigration is estimated at 455,000 in 2010, compared to 437,000 in 2009 – and broadly stable since 2006:

Long term immigration, emigration, and net migration of non-British nationals

Source: IPS, ONS Migration statistics quarterly report, August 25 2011

The Government’s chosen target is not non-British immigration, but ‘net inward migration’: total (British and non-British) immigration, less total (British and non-British) emigration. As the above graph shows, non-British emigration is falling, and while British emigration has risen slightly over the last year, overall emigration remains down – with the result that the Government’s target of reducing net migration below 100,000 has moved further from their grasp since the election:

Long term immigration, emigration, and net migration of all nationals

Source: LTIM, ONS Migration statistics quarterly report, August 25 2011

Yesterday’s figures suggest the interim immigration ‘cap’ on working migrants from outside the EU had negligible effect in 2010. The Government has made further changes since relating to non-EU migrants, including closing Tier 1 (highly skilled) to all but the wealthiest migrants in December 2010; a number of changes to Tier 4 (students) in March 2011; and a permanent ‘cap’ on ‘Tier 2’ (skilled) workers in April.

The latest quarterly figures to June 2011, published by the Home Office yesterday, should show these changes starting to have an effect, and indeed there is a slight fall in people coming from outside the EU for work (down 2.7% compared to the year ending April 2011), almost all in Tier 1 rather than Tier 2. This fall is offset, however, by a rise in those coming from outside the EU to study (up 3.5% compared to year ending April 2011).

More significantly, any reduction in numbers coming from outside the EU is likely to be offset by the continuing rise in those coming from inside the EU, particularly from Eastern Europe – a category of immigration which the Government cannot control.

Yesterday’s figures show that immigration from Eastern Europe rose from 52,000 to 71,000 in 2010 – and emigration back to Eastern Europe fell from 47,000 to 31,000, adding further to overall net migration.

In terms of the number of Eastern Europeans in work – as opposed to new arrivals – recent Labour Force Survey figures confirm that, after being stable between 2008 and the first quarter of 2010, numbers have been rising steadily since the election:

The changes the Government has made to immigration from outside the EU may well have more effect in the year to come – particularly on students and highly-skilled migrants.

But the rising trend in immigration from the EU looks set to continue. More recent figures from the Department of Work and Pensions, included in yesterday’s ONS report, show that for the year to March 2011, over 187,000 National Insurance numbers were allocated to Eastern European nationals, an increase of 24% on the previous 12 months.

In terms of employers’ future plans, a survey this week from the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development suggests that the number of private sector employers intending to hire migrant workers in the next quarter continues to rise. The CIPD survey also suggests that, if the ‘cap’ has any effect in future months, it is unlikely to deter employers from hiring migrant workers – it is more likely to make them switch to hiring migrants from inside the EU.

Ministers need to be more honest with the public about how far overall immigration numbers are really determined by government policy, rather than economic factors, and employer preferences. Ministers also need to avoid reacting to their difficulties with the net migration target by trying to clamp down further on those categories of migration which are the most economically valuable – and instead, start thinking about how to harness immigration to promote employment and growth. Conservative ministers in particular have consistently argued that welfare reform and immigration control are the answer to youth unemployment and worklessness. But with youth unemployment back over 20%, and NEETs at a record high, they need to look towards other policies if they are to prevent the creation of another ‘lost generation’.

Matt Cavanagh is Associate Director at the IPPR

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Cameron must rethink police cuts

11/08/2011, 02:14:05 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Two weeks ago, I highlighted the embarrassing gulf between David Cameron’s pre-election promise that cuts would not affect the front line, and the reality of the planned police cuts, as set out in the recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

There is undoubtedly scope for efficiency savings in the police, but as HMIC set out, with 81% of police funding going on staff costs, and another 10% going on areas like transport and premises, cuts of 20% were always going to cut deep into police numbers. HMIC’s report is the most systematic and rigorous attempt so far, to estimate not just the likely effect on total police numbers – a cut of 16,000 by 2015, ironically the exact number the Met have deployed on London’s streets in recent nights – but also the likely effect on the front line for different forces around the country.

This is relevant to Cameron’s defence of the policing cuts today, when he was confronted in the Commons by former Home Secretary Jack Straw. To justify his assertion that the cuts will not affect the front line, or visible patrolling, Cameron chose to discuss his own local force, Thames Valley. This choice was either ignorant, or disingenuous. A glance at the graph on page 22 of the HMIC report shows the difference in the scale of the challenge faced by Thames Valley Police, in trying to protect the front line from spending cuts, compared to those forces who have been dealing with the riots, including the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside. Thames Valley Police would have to reduce their non-front-line officers by just under 50%, in order to avoid cutting into the front line. That is challenging, but arguably possible. By contrast, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside forces would have to cut their non-front-line officers by 100%. Even those who hold the simplistic view that almost all ‘back office’ jobs are unnecessary would have to admit that to cut at this level without affecting front line police numbers is simply impossible.

As public concern about crime and policing soars, the government seems to be trapped in defending two increasingly indefensible claims: first, that the cuts won’t reduce front line police numbers, and second, that anyway police numbers don’t affect crime. This position was already starting to look naïve or complacent before the riots, especially with the signs that the long downward trend in crime may be on the turn. Now it looks reckless and hopelessly out of touch, as even Conservative MPs and ‘ministerial sources’ admit.

It has been amusing, if also a bit depressing, to watch Tory cheerleaders like Tim Montgomerie suggest that the way out of this problem is for Theresa May to introduce a new target for how much time police officers actually spend doing visible work. In fact, May inherited such a target from Labour. Admittedly, it was applied only to Neighbourhood Policing Teams, but she could have chosen to extend it; instead, in those heady days of last summer when ministers were falling over themselves to mock Labour’s ‘top-down targets’, she scrapped it.

Even more ridiculous is the spectacle of Conservative MPs and Conservative-leaning think-tankers trying to use the riots to back up the case for elected police commissioners – just like they did with the scandal over the Met’s links to News International – without realising that the Met is precisely the one police force which is already very close to the elected commissioner model.

These rather desperate moves are not surprising, since other than elected commissioners, and some useful development of Labour’s introduction of online crime maps, the government doesn’t really have any crime policies – and yet they need to talk about something other than police cuts. But these moves aren’t working. As John McTernan noted this morning, Cameron’s reluctance to break off his holiday to grip the riots ignored the “basic political law, that if you’re going to have to do something, you should do it of your own free will, rather than being forced to.” He needs to realise that rethinking the police cuts falls in the same category.

Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on crime and justice under the last Labour government.

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The week Uncut

31/07/2011, 10:00:07 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Rachel Reeves on Osborne, bad excuses and growth (or lack of)

Patt McFadden on Norway, and what it means to be Labour

Atul Hatwal’s end of season review of the shadow cabinet championship

Peter Watt’s take on refounding Labour

Matt Cavanagh reports on the latest Tory attack on troop numbers

Tom Harris on the far right, the far left and jihadism

Kevin Meagher says Gideon is letting the side down

… and Dan Hodges abandons his post and goes to Lord’s

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The latest round of Army cuts confirms that the Conservative Party, like News International, use the military for their own ends

26/07/2011, 08:00:01 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

David Cameron’s Downing Street machine may have endured its biggest crisis so far over phone hacking, but at least its media strategy is working well in one area: defence cuts. As with October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, bad news in defence is only cleared for release when there is enough other bad news to bury it. The SDSR announced the biggest defence cuts for 20 years, including cutting 7,000 soldiers, but with the spending review setting out even bigger cuts elsewhere the next day, the defence settlement didn’t make a single front page, and broadcast coverage was similarly muted. Likewise last week, when Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that 10,000 more soldiers would be cut, even Telegraph readers had to turn past ten pages of hacking coverage before they saw it.

How much attention an announcement gets will always depend on what other news is around, and it would have been hard for any story to compete with the hacking scandal. But it is a shame for defence, because the Government’s treatment has been both dishonest and shambolic, and deserves greater scrutiny.

Fox’s dishonesty on Army numbers goes back many years. In opposition he repeatedly lied that Labour had ‘cut the Army by 10,000’: in fact, numbers remained fairly stable, and the Army was bigger in 2010 than 1997. He also promised that a Conservative government would give the Army ‘three new battalions’, a promise which Cameron endorsed in his Conference speech in 2007 at the end of another hard summer in Afghanistan and Iraq – a predictable move from a party which has long seen defence as an issue to be milked for maximum political effect. Some in the Army may be wishing they had paid less attention to these speeches and more attention to history. The bean-counters in the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have always wanted to cut the Army – it is so much easier than dealing with the bigger problems in the defence budget – and generally it has been Conservative ministers who give them the go-ahead, perhaps because they think they can get away with it. In the 1990s, they cut the Army by 35,000, alongside deep cuts in the defence budget and reductions in military capability. The script has changed – then it was the ‘peace dividend’ after the Cold War, now it is the deficit – but from the Army’s point of view, they could be forgiven for thinking history is repeating itself.

Even now, with the Government’s real agenda for the Army exposed, ministers are still not being honest. In early July, Labour’s Dan Jarvis, a former Parachute Regiment major, confronted Fox at the despatch box and asked him whether he had any plans for further cuts to the Army. Fox replied that ‘nothing has changed since the SDSR’. This was two weeks before he announced further cuts of 10,000 soldiers. When he did finally announce the cuts, he attempted to preserve some semblance of consistency with the SDSR by claiming that none of this would happen before 2015, and that when it did, it would be offset by more generous funding. That was contradicted yesterday by a leaked letter in the Telegraph from the head of the Army, suggesting that 5,000 more soldiers will indeed be cut before 2015, biting deep into the combat units which have been serving in Afghanistan.

We should not deny that there is a funding crisis in the MOD – even if its true nature tends to be obscured by the ministerial rhetoric rather than illuminated by it. There is also a case to be made for a smaller Army. In the continuing absence of an existential threat of the kind we faced in the Cold War, and with the nation losing its appetite for manpower-intensive counter-insurgency, ministers could have come out and argued for a redistribution of resources away from a standing army and towards new threats and new capabilities – like cyber security, or drones and other surveillance. But they haven’t had the courage, or strategic vision, to do so. Fox did try to use the Reserves Review to put a strategic spin on last week’s cuts, arguing that overall ‘deployability’, across regular and reserve forces, is the key – with a reformed and more deployable T.A. offsetting cuts to regular soldiers. Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Fox objecting to Labour questions about overall numbers (“they talk about total numbers all the time”, he complains, “but they do not talk about deployability”) given his own approach in opposition, this is an dangerous tack for a Defence Secretary who has announced a radical cut of one-third in, precisely, deployability. (This was tucked away on p19 of the SDSR document, glossed over by Fox and Cameron in their statements at the time: the admission that in future, in a one-off operation like the invasion of Iraq, we will be able to deploy 30,000, rather than 45,000; and that in an enduring operation like Afghanistan, we will be able to deploy 6,500 rather than 10,000.) (more…)

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The week Uncut

23/07/2011, 10:00:51 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Michael Dugher takes us behind the scenes of PMQs prep

Dan Hodges Commons sketch: Cameron’s escape

Tom Harris stands up for the off the record whisperers and backroom briefings

Kevin Meagher says Cameron is on the ropes, but he’ll last the distance

Matt Cavanagh reports on Cameron’s broken policing promises

Peter Watt offers a very personal account of the need for a work/life balance

Atul Hatwal asks you to pick your hacking heroes

…and a letter from Tom Watson to David Cameron from last year over Mr Coulson

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