'City is struggling with ethnic influx'

RAPIDLY growing numbers of people from black and minority ethnic groups face a "desperate" situation in a city where systems are struggling to cater for them, Milton Keynes Council has been warned.

Milton Keynes Racial Equality Council director Navrita Atwal was commenting as a city council survey revealed the local BME – black and minority ethnic – population has soared by almost four per cent to 17 per cent in the last five years.

She said: "Not enough Government money is coming in. Something needs to be done otherwise we are going to have huge problems."

BME groups were telling her they were still not being "positively engaged" by the city council, which they attacked as too slow in dealing with their needs.

Many were living in crowded apartments with "frightening" fire risks. New arrivals faced difficulties with housing, healthcare and education.

Some of the city's schools, which she estimated to have up to 25 per cent BME children on the register, were "struggling" to cope.

She was "quite stunned" to hear at a recent meeting of an influx of Ghanaians from Holland living on Fishermead.

Milton Keynes had presumably been recommended to them, but the rapidly growing young city was struggling to develop services to keep pace with an equally fast growing BME population.

"I think there is a desperate situation," Mrs Atwal said.

Milton Keynes Council housing chief Cllr Irene Henderson said its survey disclosed no "earth shattering" BME problems.

"Their needs are in many ways quiite similar to the needs of indigenous families who have special needs."

The council's "perennial problem" was to ensure information provided for BME communities actually reached them and was presented in a culturally familiar way.

Somalis, for instance, preferred to be told by word of mouth rather than in writing.The survey is the basis of a three-year council BME housing and social care plan.

Main findings were BME families unable to afford suitable housing and their disproportionately low use of social services in comparison to the rest of the population – although on a par with other parts of the country.

It confirmed problems of overcrowding – particularly within Bangladeshi and black African communities – and said homelessness was a "major issue" for BME residents.

There were "very few" asylum seekers and the total had fallen over the past three years.

Some 74 per cent of the BME population of the city were of working age, compared to 68 per cent in the country as a whole.

doug.smith@mkcitizen.co.uk

What are your views on the issues raised in this story? Let us know by clicking here.