North Yorkshire leaders still waiting to hear from Home Office over plan to accommodate asylum seekers
Political leaders in rural North Yorkshire are still waiting to hear back from the Government over whether Whitehall officials will agree to a proposal that would allow asylum seekers to be accommodated for the first time in England's largest county.
Local housing board officials wrote to the Home Office on April 30 last year setting out the conditions that would need to be put in place for town hall leaders to consider being part of the national asylum seeker dispersal programme.
The compromise agreement would mean the number of asylum seekers arriving in the county to 50 in the first two years, and no more than 20 in any one district, using only properties agreed to be suitable by council officials.
And even if this was approved by the Home Office, individual council areas would only take part in the scheme if it was backed by councillors.
But since the proposal was submitted nearly a year ago, the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Housing Board has yet to receive a response from the Home Office.
In the intervening period the organisation responsible for running the asylum seekers has changed, with outsourcing giant G4S due to relinquish its contract in August this year ans social housing specialists Mears Group due to take over.
Colin Dales, Corporate Director at Richmondshire District Council, told The Yorkshire Post that he approached the Home Office again in October, as the new contract was being decided, to ask whether the North Yorkshire proposal was acceptable.
If the Home Office office agrees to the stipulations, then he would go back to the housing board to try and reach consensus on a way forward.
He said: "We are waiting for the Home Office to get back to us and let us know that proposal is acceptable.
"What we are not clear on is if as part of the awarding of the contract to Mears Group there has been any suggested change to the contract terms that would effectively water down local authority involvement.
"At this moment our proposal is with the Home Office, we are waiting for them to get back in touch with us.
"Once we have got that we will be relaying the report back to the housing board.
"The thing that is still unclear is that I can't say whether we would get 100 per cent approval across the partnership to participate. If the Home Office says 'we have spoken to Mears and can fulfil the conditions of your proposal' we will take it back to the housing board and say 'can we reach a consensus'.
"With the decision of the board on the previous two occasions I can't guarantee that North Yorkshire would be as one on its decision.
"Some authorities might say 'no, even with these new proposals we would be unable to participate'. The aim would be to get a consensus but I can't guarantee that."
At the end of December 2018, 44,258 asylum seekers in the UK were in receipt of support under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, up nine per cent from the previous year.
But no asylum seekers were accommodated anywhere in York or North Yorkshire, while 759 were being housed in Leeds and 818 in Bradford.
In August, The Yorkshire Post revealed that town hall leaders in Yorkshire were considering pulling out of the scheme that homes more than 5,000 asylum seekers around the region after criticising the “mounting chaos” surrounding the project.
Local councils said they were being increasingly side-lined and that many towns and cities across the North each have more asylum seekers “clustered in a handful of wards than entire regions in the South and East of the country”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are in regular dialogue with local authorities to discuss the potential for accepting asylum seekers into their communities and to identify suitable additional accommodation.
“We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live extremely seriously and we work with local authorities across the country to negotiate their participation and understand and address their concerns.”