The government has been accused of trying to “bribe” a council into taking more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children as part of plans to disperse the group away from London and the South East.
Liverpool Council, which made the claim, is one of five councils in talks with the government over plans to create “specialist” authorities that would take all new arrivals.
Stuart Smith (pictured), Liverpool’s director of children’s services, told Community Care that the Border and Immigration Agency had recently stepped in to pay off outstanding cost claims.
“We have currently got around 200 asylum-seeking children under 18, and in the last six months BIA has paid out in terms of grants something nearing the cost of looking after them,” he said, suggesting the BIA was attempting to “soften up” the council in advance of the dispersal plan.
Smith said his department had a £2m overspend last year because the BIA had failed to meet costs of supporting children over the age of 18, reflecting widespread concerns over funding for the group.
He also warned the plans to disperse children to the specialist authorities could “fall apart” because the government “would not be able to afford” to meet councils’ demands.
Last week, the BIA told Community Care that it was in talks with Liverpool, Solihull, Glasgow, Cardiff and Leeds over plans to create the specialist authorities.
Smith said Liverpool, which is home to one of the two units where asylum seekers can make in-country applications, had been “cornered” by the BIA.
“Because we have the screening unit the BIA can do this to us whether we like it or not,” he said. “The idea that we as the most deprived city in the country can subsidise more asylum-seeking children is bizarre.”
Mark Rogers, acting chief executive of Solihull Council, echoed Smith’s concerns over funding for over-18s, and said the BIA “had not got their funding envelope right” for the dispersal scheme.
While he said Solihull would consider becoming a specialist authority, he said the government’s plan of getting the first wave of councils operating by the autumn was “hugely ambitious”.
Glasgow, Cardiff and Leeds confirmed they were in talks with the BIA but said no decisions had been made.
In response to Smith’s comments, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Local authorities may reclaim the cost of supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children from the Border and Immigration Agency under an agreed scheme. All claims made to the Border and Immigration Agency by Liverpool Council under this scheme have been met in full. The Home Office will fully reimburse local authorities on all reasonable care costs.”
In March, Community Care reported that some councils were reluctant to become specialist authorities because of the potential costs.
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This article appeared in the 14 February issue under the headline “Border agency bribed Liverpool”