When I go canvassing I usually encounter at least one person who doesn't speak English. I'm never qute sure how to mark them on the sheet. According to the 2011 Census in 5% of households in this countrry nobody can speak English. In his speech yesterday the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced a £6 million competition fund to boost English language tuition.
Mr Pickles said:
It has been estimated that the public sector spends as much as £140 million a year translating documents into foreign languages.
Now, it wasn’t that our predecessors were ill intentioned, don’t get me wrong there.
Their hearts were in the right place.
It was just their decisions were simply wrong.
And that made matters worse.
It entrenched division.
Slamming shut the doors of opportunity.
It led us to the incomprehensible situation where no one can speak English as their main language in 5% of our households.
That’s terrible for community relations and bad news for the tax-payer.
It was good to hear recently an apology for these poor policy choices.
It’s just a pity it came 15 years too late.
If we want people to get along it makes sense they speak English.
People should be able to talk, and understand one and another in a nuanced way.
I’m not expecting everyone to adopt the lyrical dexterity of Samuel Johnson or for that matter Boris Johnson.
But this is about getting the best from all our citizens.
Britain is a country built on aspiration.
You work hard to get your first job, your first car, your first home.
But the reality is you need English to succeed.
You can’t really function as a good doctor, a good teacher, a good mechanic, or since we’re in the Institution for Civil Engineering, you can’t be a good engineer, if you can’t talk the language.
Just as you can’t talk to your neighbour, read a bus timetable, or enjoy enormous joy of The Only Way is Essex.
Worse still, our kids don’t have fluent English, are condemned to a very limited life.
We don’t want people’s identity to disappear or cease being proud of their roots or background.
We want them to stay in touch with their culture.
We want them to be proud and ambitious.
So learning English is an integral part of that process.
That’s why, instead of millions lost in translation services, next year we’re ploughing millions into an English language service.
Today I’m launching a competition that will allow local communities to tailor language services to suit the needs of their area.
I also think this is something where councils should look at the way voluntary sector grants are spent. Imagine if all the money poured into separtist groups for refugees and ethnic minorites instead went on teaching English? Imagine if councils also required those on Council Tax Benefit to take up the courses available as well as making it a condition of moving up the witing list for council housing?