Business leaders in Birmingham have reacted angrily to suggestions that they should pay for immigrants to Britain to learn English.
New Government guidance warned there were “still too many” immigrants who were unable to integrate into British society because they didn’t speak the language.
But it suggested employers, rather than taxpayers, should pay for English lessons. The proposal prompted an indignant response from Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, which accused ministers of trying to impose further costs on hard-pressed businesses.
Ministers also admitted there were no accurate figures for the number of immigrants living in different parts of the country, making it difficult for Government to channel money were it was needed most. As a result, health and education services had suffered from overcrowding and lack of funding in areas with high levels of immigration.
Hazel Blears, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, announced plans to spend £12 million improving the way figures were collected. There will also be an extra £10 million for schools dealing with a rapid influx of new pupils because of immigration.
Launching two papers setting out how the Government was dealing with the impact of migration, she admitted that not every part of the country had benefited from immigration equally. She said: “The precise difference that migration makes to local places and people varies from town to town.
“Some communities can readily see the benefits, some people have concerns about pressures on public services and pressure on the labour market; in other places it is the rate and scale of change which is the cause for concern, whilst for others the real challenges will arise if net migration reduces.”
The guidance warned that there was an urgent need to improve access to English lessons.
It said: “There are still too many long term residents committed to making a contribution to Britain who cannot engage with other people in their neighbourhoods – let alone play an active role in their communities – simply because their lack of English prevents it. This can have a negative impact on their life chances and limit their ability to integrate.”
But the Government Paper also includes a complaint that employers who benefitted from immigration were foisting the cost of English lessons on to taxpayers.
It said: “Where employers fail to support English language training they are effectively externalising the costs of employing migrant workers on to local services in their area. Businesses clearly benefit from a well-integrated workforce that can speak English.
“Employers should look to include English language training as a part of creating a successful long term sustainable business which adds value to the community.”
Chamber spokesman John Lamb said industry already understood the need to train staff He said: “Businesses do train their staff including immigrants, but to try to shame them into providing English lessons in this way is a disgrace.
“With all the burdens businesses are carrying at the moment due to the general economic climate, this idea is a no-go.”
Ms Blears said local councils could play a crucial role in bringing people from different backgrounds together, highlighting the example of Manchester which has organised “Manchester Day” to boost civic pride.
But Conservatives claimed better controls on immigration were needed in order to protect public services.
Shadow Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: “This is not only an admission that the Labour Government has failed to control the rising level of immigration but also sounds like a trademark rehashed announcement by Labour.
“Local public services are under increasing pressure because of the failure to plan for a growing population. Councils have been short-changed by Whitehall because the Government has no idea of the true level of migration, further forcing up council tax bills.”