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Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Leeds GATE response to Housing Minister Dominic Raab MP announcement

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  April 5, 2018 |

Bill Forrester, Chair of the National Association of Gypsy and Traveller Officers, a body entirely comprised of Local Authority officials working on this issue day in and day out, recently stated that 80% of unauthorised (note not  'illegal' as incorrectly suggested by the Minister) encampments do not present any problems *.  In contrast, whilst we can welcome long overdue discussion on this important issue, and recognise the significant challenges that some local authorities face, the tone adopted by the Housing Minister Dominic Raab in announcing the review, with its talk of 'many' local residents 'often' raising concerns, gives us no confidence that the Government undertakes the consultation with anything like an open mind. 

Government failure to take seriously their duty to respect, and facilitate to the benefit of all, a right to a nomadic way of life (Chapman v UK, 2001) has created a negative cycle which punishes the many decent and law-abiding Gypsy and Traveller people recognised here by Dominic Raab, in what is surely a statement of the obvious, whilst actually facilitating a very small minority of criminals to 'hide under the radar' of endless and constant shifting.  

Happily, whilst the Government relies on narratives based on negative consequences of current policies towards encampment, some local authorities have demonstrated the required vision and political courage to adopt a more compassionate (to all stakeholder communities including residents, local businesses and the pockets of local council tax payers) and ultimately effective response.  By negotiating short term use of 'meanwhile' unoccupied land, or indeed by opening up previously blocked off former camp grounds, wide verges and similar, local authorities are much better able to manage the interests of all communities, dealing fairly with anti-social behaviour and creating time for intelligence led policing responses where criminal behaviour is present, whilst simultaneously incentivising positive engagement and enhancing outcomes for all.  Cost benefit evaluation(**)  of this approach in Leeds over two years of a 'negotiated stopping' approach to management of unauthorised encampment has shown a potential costs saving to the LA and Police of up to £238,000 per year.  We can only hope that the Government will be as interested in endorsing and supporting this successful approach as it appears to be interested in endorsing the introduction of entirely unnecessary and unhelpful further punitive powers.  As many police and LA officers state, we have had plenty of 'powers' to move people on, look where it has got us?!  

For the benefit of all communities in the UK, whether affected directly or indirectly (via costs funded from Council Tax), we sincerely hope that the Government is open to hearing from all and will not close its ears to the 'good news' of positive outcomes already being achieved by effective and compassionate management of unauthorised encampment using powers already available.  We further sincerely hope that the government will demonstrate nationally the type of political courage and leadership which is already delivering results at the local level and which avoids using sensitive and difficult issues as tub-thumping fodder for electioneering.

You can read the MHCLG press release here and comment on the review via this link and we hope many of our members and readers will tell the Minister what they think.

*Presentation to Public Policy Review Conference Fulfilling Responsibilities to Settled & Gypsy/Traveller Communities,  Wednesday 21st March 2018

** DeMontford University (attached)

Notes - 

Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (Leeds GATE) is a membership organisation for Gypsy and Traveller people in West Yorkshire. Founded in 2003, the organisation works to improve quality of life for its members in respect of homes, health, education and financial inclusion, and in supporting citizenship and pursuing social inclusion.

Leeds GATE, in partnership with Leeds City Council, have pioneered the 'negotiated stopping' approach to unauthorised encampment which has been recognised in national awards from the Lloyds Bank Foundation (Community Change Champion regional winner and national runner-up) 2015, and the GSK/Kings Fund Impact Awards 2018. 

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