A rather unpleasant row has blown up over comments made by Shropshire Council leader Peter Nutting on BBC Radio Shropshire earlier in the week. Speaking on why the council is struggling to balance its budget, he said that ten child refugees had been taken into care, claiming they have cost the council £1 million. He identified the nationality of the children. This was careless talk that could turn public attitudes against supporting vulnerable young people. It was also dangerous talk that could threaten the youngsters themselves.

The story was subsequently headlined in local papers, including front page splash in the Shrewsbury Chronicle. The Daily Mail has also covered the story.

I can’t talk about the specific details of this case. But we need to look at the context. Vietnam is not an unsafe country or, in developing country terms, particularly poor. It does not have the refuges crisis that now exists in so many countries, including nearby Myanmar.

So why are these children here? They are too young to be economic migrants in the conventional sense (officers and support workers are trained to assess age). That means they may have been trafficked. Some may have been destined for sex slavery, others for the drugs trade. Many trafficked children taken into local authority care subsequently go missing. Refugee support agencies fear that many may go back into slavery.

We should never identify the nationality of children in our care in the way that Peter Nutting did this week. That makes it easier for slave masters to locate them.

Although Councillor Nutting told BBC Radio Shropshire he wasn’t blaming the children for the council overspend, his emphasis was on the costs. The same prominence was given in subsequent radio interviews with the council portfolio holder for children, Nicholas Bardsley, and Shrewsbury MP, Daniel Kawczynski.

This is wrong. On the financial side, there is some doubt that this essential action to protect vulnerable children has cost Shropshire Council as much as £1 million.

Update. At the council meeting on 14 December, Peter Nutting apologised for using the £1 million figure saying it was the best information he had at the time.

There is a legitimate debate to be had between local government and Westminster on who picks up how much of the bill for refugees. But our main priority must be protecting vulnerable young people, wherever they come from and however they got here. They shouldn’t be pawns in debates over finances.

In the Times today, Mike Emberson of the Medaille Trust got it right when he said Peter Nutting’s comments were “heartless”.  He continued: “It’s almost as if he’s talking about fly-tipping.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Councillor Nutting should apologise for using vulnerable children in this way.

3 thought on “Council leader should apologise for using vulnerable refugee children to justify council’s financial black hole”
  1. I’m surprised Peter Nutter (sic) hasn’t suggested these refugee children be put to work building his airport.

    How much is this man paid?

  2. Nothing ‘careless’ about this, Andy, designed to detract attention from the uselessness of both the council and the government, oddly both Tory.

  3. “This was careless talk …”.
    NO … IT WAS NOT. It is the typical Con tactic of blaming everybody else other than themselves for problems created by their own policies.
    Philip Hammond is the latest to try that, with his comments on the need to actually BUILD various types of houses, so “young people can have the same benefits as previous generations.”
    Many Con MPs have blamed the “greed” of Boomers for the horrific increases of housing costs. We have lived through a variety of changing political policies and preferences over the last 50 years, some of which resulted in positive, and others negative outcomes on the number of houses built, as he is now being reminded of by the majority of the press and media.
    Guess who were in power when social housing dropped out of site, while using taxPAYERS money to support commercial benefits from “Right to Buy” and “Buy to Rent” and the results on ignoring social housing.

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