The Vale of Glamorgan Council is to recommend next week that its cabinet should approve an application from the unofficial group called “Croeso Penarth” [Welcome Penarth] to accommodate more refugees from Syria.
Croeso Penarth (a group which is not a registered charity, has no official status and is supposed to be politically neutral) had apparently complained to Cardiff South and Penarth Labour MP Stephen Doughty that the Conservative-led Vale Council was slow in responding to an application to accommodate the refugees in Penarth.
On April 17th Doughty seized what appeared to be an opportunity to embarrass the Conservative-run Vale of Glamorgan Council and raised the matter directly with the Prime Minister in the House of Commons. He told her “I am disappointed that the efforts being made by Croeso Penarth in my constituency to house Syrian refugees are being frustrated by the local council . I am disappointed to see the very strict rules on family reunion being interpreted in the way they are”.
Doughty had also gone far as to make a geographically-dubious claim that the Vale of Glamorgan Council was – as he put it – “in my constituency” – which it mostly isn’t.
Housing refugees, however, is a complicated process which involves liaising with a number of different agencies and also making sure there are resources available if the volunteer-driven pro-refugee charities and do-gooding groups – which may have initiated applications for re-settlement schemes – subsequently disappear from the scene.
On April 20th Croeso Penarth had a further meeting with the leaders of the re-settlement scheme in the Vale of Glamorgan Council to evaluate updated plans. Also attending the meeting were statutory partners from Cardiff Council.
On April 25th the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council – Cllr John Thomas publicly hit back at Stephen Doughty in a televised meeting of the full council saying “I am extremely disappointed at the language used by Stephen Doughty MP in his statement to Parliament – which implies that the authority has deliberately sought to obstruct a community sponsorship application from “Croeso Penarth”.
Cllr Thomas went on to say “ I remind members that the authority is duty bound to ensure that each application is sufficient and sustainable – and that the needs of the vulnerable refugees can be fully met over the long-term before it can consent to an application progressing further. This obligation is set out clearly in the guidance issued to local authorities”.
Cllr Thomas declared “There has been NO deliberate attempt to frustrate the process – despite the allegation.” [ which had been made by Doughty] . Cllr Thomas added that the Vale of Glamorgan Council “is fully and positively committed to assisting Syrian families – having already provided refuge for 6 families and a commitment to provide additional units this year.”
On May 4th Doughty – having traduced the Vale of Glamorgan Council in the House of Commons – was called upon to attend a meeting with Vale Council leader, Cllr John Thomas, at the council’s headquarters in Barry.
The council’s extensive work for the refugees is said to have been spelled out to him in detail.
After the meeting – – Doughty placed an ameliorative post on Twitter accompanied by a selfie – apparently taken by himself on his own mobile phone.
Doughty’s Twitter post however seemed to gloss-over what was – by any measure – a serious and unsubstantiated allegation he had made against the Vale Council. Written in “Twitterspeak” it read :- “Constructive meet this morning with @VOGCouncil Leader to discuss roads/transport in Penarth, Sully and Llandough, education, policing , Penarth Pier and to try to resolve Syria refugee scheme issue in Penarth . We have political differences but always imp to keep dialogue open”. No apology appears to have been given.
Meanwhile the real business of finding a new home for the resettlement of refugees in the Vale continues. The Vale of Glamorgan resettled 4 families in the first year and has, so far, resettled 2 families in the second year, with plans to receive an additional 2 families in June 2018.
On Monday May 21st the Vale Council’s cabinet is due to receive a report from the team of council officers working on the re-settlement scheme which will recommend that the Vale should now move forward with further arrangements to house Syrian refugees .
However this internal Vale Council report also registers some caveats and reservations. It says that it “recognises both the benefits and risks associated with participation in the scheme” and warns that the council has to take into account “the consequences of hosting a community sponsorship scheme, including the impact on local resources and the implications for the Authority in the event that a Sponsor is unable to fulfil its obligation.”
Local authorities have now pledged to jointly resettle up to 60 refugees in the first year, (including 4 families in the Vale and 6 in Cardiff). This commitment is to be repeated annually for the lifespan of the programme. During this time refugees will have the right to work and to claim relevant benefits. After five years these refugees will have the option of applying to extend their leave in the UK.