New drive to improve Gypsy and Traveller site provision

More funding for Gypsy and Traveller housing

Communities Minister Iain Wright announced on Tuesday, December 11, 2007 a further £97 million in Government funding to help local councils meet the housing needs of Gypsy and Traveller families in their area. The funding is part of a package of new measures aimed at cutting the number of unauthorised sites in inappropriate locations, such as car parks or lay-bys.

The Gypsy and Traveller site grants will be available for councils to deliver new and refurbished sites for Gypsies and Travellers in their areas. The grants cover 100 per cent of the cost of local council schemes that provide additional pitches through new sites, extensions to existing sites, or bring pitches back into use.

By increasing the supply of authorised sites, the Government aims to improve the current levels of unauthorised encampment and development, which are a result of nearly a quarter of Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans having no authorised place to stay.

This renewed commitment to tackle the problem of unauthorised sites follows publication of a Government-commissioned report from the Task Group on Site Provision and Enforcement. The group's report concludes that Government policy on site provision and enforcement is sound, and calls for a consensus around the need for authorised Gypsy and Traveller sites.

Other measures being taken forward following the report's recommendations include:

* New Government guidance for councils on tackling anti-social behaviour - the guidance will support local authorities and the police in dealing with anti-social behaviour where Gypsies and Travellers are either the victims or perpetrators;

* A Gypsy and Traveller 'summit' - Ministers will meet with Gypsy and Traveller representatives to discuss their concerns about the different definitions used for Gypsies and Travellers for housing and planning purposes;

* Improved monitoring - the Government will report annually to Parliament on progress on Gypsy and Traveller issues.

Iain Wright said:

"We are increasing council funding to ensure that local authorities can thoroughly assess and meet the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers, as required by legislation.

"This funding will help councils deliver more and better sites for Gypsies and Travellers, reducing the £18 million annual enforcement bill, and helping improve the health and education prospects of one of the most socially excluded groups in the country.

"It is important that councils ensure there are enough authorised sites for travelling communities. A good supply of legal sites can break the vicious circle of evictions that is costly in terms of both local tensions and taxpayers' cash."

Commenting on publication of the Task Group on Site Provision and Enforcement report, he continued:

"It's pleasing to see that the task group finds that our policies on site provision and enforcement are sound, but we recognise there needs to be further progress.

"We are determined to do our bit to help local government provide the extra pitches needed and will work to remove the problem of unauthorised encampments.

"Today we are announcing our intention to publish new guidance for councils on tackling anti-social behaviour and I will also be meeting with representatives from the travelling community to discuss their concerns."

Sir Brian Briscoe, chair of the Task Group on Site Provision and Enforcement, said:

"The evidence that the Task Group has collected demonstrates that policy on site provision and enforcement is broadly right. But the challenge, to Government and local Councils, is to get sites on the ground to meet the need for 4000 pitches, so that Gypsies and Travellers can have secure homes and that the £18m spent each year on enforcement is put to better use. This will require resources and political will, but it is a task that can be done.

Our Report is not the end of the matter and we think it is crucial that Government, with the organisations represented on the Task Group and the Gypsy and Traveller community, regularly monitors progress, to ensure that there is no slackening of the pace in securing better lives for the children and young people of this small but important ethnic minority."

Between 2006-08, Communities and Local Government have made £56 million available in site grants, which are on course to deliver at least 450 additional pitches and 128 refurbished sites across the country.

Editorial Comment:

This will really please the settled, the Gohja, community no end, this investment in council site provision while, at the same time, when Gypsies (and Travellers) want to make their own provisions such applications are, in the great majority of cases, rejected, also at great expense to the tax payer. The locals that always complain about illegal encamped Gypsies (or Travellers) do not seem to realize that (1) some of them are there, illegally encamped as a direct result of some other locals objecting to them setting up a little site somewhere in a way out (often) place on a bit of farm land and (2) that this all costs them their money.

The Gypsy and Traveller 'summit', spoken about by the Minister, will really benefit the Gypsy (and Traveller) – NOT – for the so-called representatives are all those that have their own political axes to grind. Nor can anyone believe that the minister and the government would take notice of the grassroots Romani-Gypsy (and Travellers) anyway. Therefore the political activists, the majority of which, in this country, are NOT Romani but are wannabes, and the non-Gypsy academics will, once again, tell the government what the Gypsy (and Traveller) communities (yes, plural, for it is not ONE community) need, the way they see it.

The Gypsies in the UK need the right to make their own provisions. Many who are willing to do so – and many they are – are being stopped again and again by the authorities (see “UK Gypsy Site Policy & Implementation by Local Authorities”) with the authorities then taking over the Gypsy-provided sites, after evicting the legal owners, declaring them then council sites, and renting the plots back to the people.

The minister tried to appear to be concerned for better lives for the children and young people of this small but important ethnic minority but I would suggest that we do not buy into this too deeply. For suddenly we are a “small but important ethnic minority”. Amazingly no one wants to know when our People want to make their own provisions but in this case... Beware of strangers bearing gifts...

Also we are NOT a small minority if we could get all those out of the woodwork that are of Romani-Gypsy origin and who know this. While the official estimate is some thousands of Romanichal in Britain, if we would but look then we could probably make that about a few hundreds of thousands. We are not such a small minority.

Comments by M V Smith, Editor