Writing in The Sun today to accompany the launch, the Communities Secretary writes about how important it is that everybody who comes to Britain has the opportunity to integrate properly into national life.
The Green Paper contains a number of proposals, grouped into seven broad areas: ‘strengthening leadership’; ‘supporting new migrants and resident communities’; ‘education and young people’; ‘boosting the English Language’; ‘places and community’; ‘increasing economic opportunity’; and ‘rights and freedoms’.
Specific proposals include providing more long-term support for new arrivals to help them enter the job market and promoting policies to support social mixing (especially in schools). The strategy will be concentrated for now in five pilot programmes, working with local authorities in Blackburn, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, and Waltham Forest to develop comprehensive ‘integration plans’.
However, the Green Paper has been criticised for nonetheless watering down many of the recommendations made by Dame Louise Casey in her 2016 review. Measures that didn’t make the cut include: plans to make public office holders swear an oath of allegiance to British values; clear targets for English speaking; and a council register of home schooling.
Ministers have also been criticised for only earmarking £50 million for the strategy over the next two years, which is just a quarter of what Dame Louise originally called for.
Now some of that matters more than other parts. ‘British values’ is a sufficiently nebulous term that the idea of forcing people to swear allegiance to them would probably not have achieved very much, for example. But the removal of explicit targets for English language proficiency is indicative of a broader issue, which is that the Green Paper is currently long on objectives but short on yardsticks for success.
There is a chapter called ‘Measuring Success’, but it mostly addresses the fact that the data necessary to assess the outcomes of many of the programmes outlined in earlier chapters is currently collected either only in places or not at all. The paper then sets out a number of different sorts of data that the Government is going to start collecting.
Yet although the chapter goes on to say that these will then be assessed and fine-tuned, there is no mention of setting specific outcomes targets against which the effectiveness of the policies – and their value for public money – can be clearly measured.
According to the Government, such yardsticks are difficult to create for this sort of programme. They also argue that setting assessment deadlines risks distorting the policy when it should be being updated and fine-tuned on an ongoing basis as the evidence comes in.
It is certainly true that ‘integration’ is a harder thing to set down in hard numbers than something like employment. But on the face of it something like English seems more measurable: if Javid is confident about putting a clear number on the number of people struggling with the language, surely it’s possible to put a number on the Government’s teaching goals? Dame Louise, in her own Sun article today, echoes this concern: “We should set a target that says by “x” date we want everybody in the country to be able to speak a common language.”
Quantifying other outcomes will be much more difficult. Of course Javid and his team should take the time to make sure those yardsticks are the right ones and that they are capturing all the data they need. It may well be that it isn’t possible to devise meaningful criteria for success until the first five programmes are up and running.
But at some point the Department is going to need to seek new funding for these policies, and presumably make a decision about whether or not to roll the strategy out to other parts of England. To justify either it will need to be able to make its case that the pilots have been a good and effective use of public funds – and that will require clear yardsticks for success (or failure). It should tell us what they are, or at least how it intends to choose them.