Gloucester: The two ‘C’s, contribution and control

Gloucester is a city with a rich history of migration and is now relatively diverse compared to wider Gloucestershire. It is also the half-way point of the National Conversation’s 60 visits, and time to reflect on common themes. As with all citizens’ panels, our Gloucester participants talked about the contribution of migrants, but also about the needs for more controls, sometimes in the same statement.

“For the most part I think it is very good. Obviously, you mentioned the agricultural workers and you’ve obviously got the health care workers coming in as well, and filling in gaps in that area. But I do agree that there are changes that need to be made, possibly some form of points system like in Australia or something like that to try to control it a bit more.”

The ‘two Cs’ – contribution and control – have emerged as common themes in all the citizens’ panels we have undertaken.   There is broad support for highly-skilled and student migration, and for lower-skilled migration where citizens’ panel members see that they are doing jobs that the economy needs. Our Gloucester panel talked about the essential role that migrant workers played in Gloucestershire’s rural economy. Even those who have big concerns about the impacts of immigration will usually voice support for migrants who come to the UK to work. In Gloucester we were told:

“Migrants from Europe they come in and do the fruit picking. They fill a requirement for business and without them a lot of farms would struggle.” 

Across the country, the National Conversation has heard the idea of control being mentioned and in Gloucester, a city which historically wanted to control the movement of the Welsh into England, we tried to delve deeper into what participants actually understood by ‘control’.  For some people, it meant democratic control – that when the UK left the EU, Westminster, not Brussels would determine immigration policy. For other people ‘control’ meant checks on numbers.

Other people felt control meant the vetting of would-be migrants to exclude those with criminal records. Some participants argued for systems where migrants’ qualifications had to meet the needs of the UK labour market. Similar to many other National Conversation visits, some participants argued for an Australian-style points based system. Although most people don’t know the details of how this system, the Australians are seen as having control.

Others felt control meant more stringent checks at airports, as well as enforcement within the country. Having greater control over who enters the country and ensuring people who are no longer in the country legally are deported, would mean heightened security checks not just at borders but on the streets. The citizen’s panel were asked how they would feel being stopped in the street by a police officer and asked to show ID, and whether there would be any situations in which they would draw the line. Although, many people raised no objections to this, one panel member though raised the potential of abuse of the extra powers.

“The problem would be that it would be open to abuse, and you know you would get a lot of people who would be hacked off by being stopped all the time, and feeling that it is certain groups being stopped.”

Our visit to Gloucester provided an interesting insight into what we mean by ‘control’. Clearly, it is a multi-dimensional condition, which means different things to different people. But if we to put in place an immigration system that commands a consensus, the Government needs to probe and understand what we mean by control.

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