Over the past week our national papers have been full of rubbish about immigration, often phrased in terms which stops just short of blatant racism. The hordes are coming they say. The Romanians (or do they mean Roma) are lusting at the thought of our benefits. Tickets are being booked as we speak.
In fact there is little if any evidence of this and much evidence the other way. A recent survey showed less than 2% of immigrants claimed benefits which means 98% making their own way in life. Let’s also not forget that our people can also claim benefits applicable in other EU countries. Who knows how many people are doing just that – my guess is at least as many as immigrants who claim here.
I discussed this yesterday with the new Romanian Consul to Greater Liverpool. He knows of no-one in his or his wife’s family who are straining at the leash to emigrate. He doubts that many want to come and that many of the Roma – NOT to be confused with Romanians – already have the rights to come here as they are citizens of Southern European countries such as Greece and Spain. We also discussed the 2 way trade potential of actions between our two countries and I have offered to help with such 2 way trade if at all possible.
So that’s the inward looking xenophobic bit out of the way. Fortunately next week I am able to devote a bit of time to international activity on behalf of both my city and my country. On Monday I will be attending a Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey and will go on to meet a wide range of attendees at a meeting afterwards. The Commonwealth is still an important international forum. Whilst most people think it is irrelevant and in decline it is actually expanding. It is no longer just composed of ex Colonies. It has a lusophone and a francophone membership as well.
In May I will be visiting Kampala to attend the Commonwealth Local Government Forum biennial conference. At that meeting I will looking to hold a series of meetings looking at ways in which UK local government can assist with governance, training and support issues following our successful work in Africa with peer reviews and support packages. More widely I will be looking at trade opportunities and how to ensure that councils play their part in trade development.
Later on Monday I will be visiting the Mexican Embassy; then I will be helping develop a Memorandum of Understanding leading to training support for Regional Municipalities and finally on Thursday a Mexican delegation will visit Liverpool. Our Memorandum of Understanding will involve the sale of services to Mexico funded by their equivalent of DCLG. On their visit to Liverpool (which will be hosted by ARUP) they will be looking at the Sandon Dock Water Treatment works and then looking at our city with a presentation by Liverpool Vision. Again this work with Mexico is a combination of training support and trading opportunities.
So why dear reader am I telling you this? Because those of us who believe in international activities need to be far more aggressive about the benefits of fully engaging with the world. The World just is not full of people who want to take advantage of us. It is, however, full of people who want to work with us. Who see us as potential advisers and partners for cultural, political and most importantly for economic links. Out there in the big wide world our country has a big reputation. We are no longer seen by most people as a colonial power (that’s the US and China now folks!) but as a strong, reliable and honest partner.
So let’s put aside our fears of ‘Johnny Foreigner’. There are good people out there and bad people. Let’s see the rest of the world as a place for mutual opportunity and not full of people who envy us, our wealth and our benefits.