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26 June 2014, 06:23
Councils are concerned that a lack of resources could impact on their ability to welcome immigrants from other parts of the world, a new study has found.
Researchers from the ESRC Centre for Population Change have been examining how local authorities plan for and respond to immigration.
This could be improved by "enhancing communication'' between the different parts of the government, one of the researchers suggested.
A team of experts from St Andrews University conducted in-depth interviews with senior staff at 16 of Scotland's councils and found that while all local authorities experienced a rise in immigration between 2001 and 2011, some flagged up the need to "balance the needs of existing communities with the opportunities created by new arrivals''.
The report, part of the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland programme, found only a "minority'' of authorities viewed immigration solely as a way of dealing with local labour shortages.
"Immigration was widely viewed as both important and advantageous, providing multiple opportunities for the local economy and wider community,'' it said
But it added: "Insufficient resources were cited by all local authorities as a constraint on their capacity to welcome migrants to their communities.''
While immigration can help reverse population decline and enhances cultural diversity, it also presents challenges for councils, with increased pressure on some services, such as greater demand for additional support for non-English speakers in local schools.
There is also a possible risk that there could be resentment from local communities over immigrants accessing council housing or claiming welfare benefits, with a need for authorities to ensure community cohesion, according to the research.
It added that as resources had been reduced in recent years, immigrants were "no longer treated as a separate entity'' by councils.
The research said: "Immigrants' needs are met alongside the needs of the general population, whether these relate to education, social care housing, etc.''
One member of the research team, Helen Packwood, said: "The ability of local authorities to manage migration is of significance because it will be a key determinant of whether Scotland can successfully attract and retain the immigrants it needs to grow its population and economy.
"This study highlights the challenge of devising national immigration policy without adequate dialogue with local policy and decision makers.
"Although the local authorities in this study generally felt more confident and better equipped to deal with an increase in immigrants than previously, they were conscious of balancing the needs of existing communities with the opportunities created by new arrivals.''
Ms Packwood added: "Enhancing communication within tiers of government could ensure that migration policy is more responsive, reflective and better informed.
"This may also ensure greater consistency of approaches, ensuring all local authorities exceed their statutory obligations in relation to immigration.''
A spokesman for the local government organisation Cosla said the research confirmed its "long-held position that migration is a positive thing for Scotland's communities, but that local authorities' response must be properly managed and resourced''.
He added: "Cosla has a team that works actively with local authorities to help them to make the most of the migration into their areas and to encourage the development of cohesive communities that support migrants to build a life in Scotland.
"This can be challenging in the current economic context, but overall the benefits that migrants bring in terms of their economic, social and cultural contribution and the positive effect they have on our demographics outweigh the costs.''
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government is pleased to note this report's findings that our local authorities recognise the many benefits that migrants bring to our communities, economy and society.
"We greatly value the contribution that migrants and new Scots are bringing to Scotland.
"We will continue to ensure that our local authorities receive adequate and fair funding.
"Between 2007-08 and 2012-13, local government's budget increased by 8.9%, demonstrating our determination to provide strong financial settlements to local government during challenging financial times.
"The Scottish Government is proud of our multi-cultural nation and we will continue to support full integration of migrant groups into our communities.
"For example, we provide core funding for the Cosla Strategic Migration Partnership who are working hard across local authority areas to ensure that migrants are better integrated into local communities.''