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Integration select committee takes evidence from Boston

A top-level Government inquiry has again turned to Boston Borough Council for its input.

An all-party Parliamentary group (APPG) has been taking evidence about integration and the council's leader, Cllr Peter Bedford, has been one of those called forward.

It was day one of two days in the House of Commons for Cllr Bedford, who had been asked to attend after Boston recorded the highest proportion in the country of voters wanting to leave the EU - 75.6 per cent.

He attended the House of Commons the following day for the launch of Water For Growth - a plan to manage flood risk and water resources as a critical factor in enabling economic growth up to 2040 in Greater Lincolnshire.

The APPG is chaired by Chuka Umunna MP. He had earlier visited Boston and met with Cllr Bedford and other councillors to hear more about the Boston experience.

Writing after his visit in the Daily Mirror Mr Umunna, who represents Streatham in South London, one of the most diverse places in the UK, said that as the MP for the area that voted most strongly to remain in the EU he wanted to visit the place that voted most strongly to leave.

Echoing something that Cllr Bedford was to tell the APPG he said: "Our national conversation on immigration has become hopelessly polarised; a shouting match between one group of voices claiming Boston is full and it's time to pull up the drawbridge and shut our borders; and another insisting there's no problem at all, and immigration has purely been a positive force for good."

Cllr Bedford told the APPG that one of the influencing factors in the Boston Brexit vote was a lack of sensible debate about the issues and too much of a shouting and point scoring match between the opposing political factions.

Mr Umunna, in his Mirror article, wrote: "...Bostonians cast their ballots in response to the rapid, high level of immigration which has transformed their town - in some ways for the better and others not."

He cited conversations he had in Boston expressing on the one hand delight that previously empty shop units were now in business as Eastern European shops, while another spoke about the difficulties caused by people who could not understand or speak English.

He also wrote about issues over depressed wages, demand for properties and increased rents and exploitation.

He said: "My overall impression was that Boston, and many other towns across the country, have been expected to deal with too much demographic and cultural change in too short a space of time without proper support.

"I do not believe these issues are the fault of immigrants. It is the fault of governments for not providing the right resources and failing to think sufficiently about how we integrate new arrivals.

"We need an integration strategy which will work for both Boston and Streatham, fostering community ties, bonds of trust and relationships in diverse communities.

"We need to invest more in communities like Boston. In housing, in skills and English language programmes. We must recognise immigration has changed how people feel about their communities. It is not just an economic issue. Many of the people I spoke to in Boston expressed feelings of loss about the erosion of neighbourhood ties and a sense that they weren't sure if they belonged in their communities any more."