Wales Could Lose Out Over Poor Estimates Of Immigrant Numbers

Wales could be losing out on millions of pounds because official statistics have not kept up with the recent influx of workers from countries such as Poland, it was claimed last night.

Since the last 10-yearly census in 2001, thousands of people have moved to Wales from outside the UK.

The Office for National Statistics updates its population estimates each year between censuses, but yesterday a Government minister admitted the ONS needed to keep a closer eye on changes.

Economic migrants are not spread evenly across Wales, with Carmarthenshire, Newport and Wrexham housing more than many other counties.

Councils stand to lose more than £1,000 each year for each person uncounted in official population estimates. NHS trusts could also lose out, as their funding is linked to population.

Wales would also get less money from London if its overall population is underestimated.

Council officers were unwilling yesterday to estimate the numbers of migrant workers in their counties.

However, at least one authority is so concerned about the potential lost funding that it has started a research project to try to pinpoint the true figure.

Yesterday a Carmarthenshire MP said he had heard figures in excess of 4,000 for the county – compared with the Home Office’s figure of 2,286.

And Home Office figures put the number of east European migrant workers in Wrexham, based on registrations since 2004, at 2,130. But last month local officials said they believed there were more than 4,000 migrant workers in the area.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said that the system for calculating the number of migrants arriving in the UK had been put in place by the ONS, which is independent of Government.

He said a new group would meet for the first time next month to help keep a “closer track” of the issue.

“We think we have to keep a much closer tab on this in the future,” he said.

“In June, we will launch the first meeting of a new group that is designed to bring together local councils, local authorities, job centres up and down the country, so we can keep a much closer track on it.”

The ONS uses the same formula to calculate Welsh and English statistics. It recently brought in new methodology to take account of new migration trends.

The net effect was to revise its estimate of Wales’ population in mid-2005 down by 4,500.

Previously the ONS had estimated that Wales’ population increased by 35,200 people from 2002 to 2005, but now it believes the real increase was just 30,700.

However councils are left scratching their heads about the true figure. Carmarthenshire County Council’s assistant chief executive, Chris Burns, said, “The council is currently undertaking a research project, through one of its scrutiny committees, to assess the impact of migrant workers in the county.

“We have no precise figures on the exact numbers working in the county but believe Government estimates on population in Carmarthenshire to be an underestimate.

“There certainly are some areas – for example, adult education language classes – where additional Government funding would be very helpful.”

Wrexham councillor Paul Blackwell, whose Plas Madoc ward has become home to many Portuguese families since the last census, said, “The statistics officers should have got their act together by now.

“We need another national census now, instead of working to a rigid timescale, so that we know how many people are here.”

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP Adam Price said the official estimates should be improved urgently, to avoid resentment when council budgets came under additional strain from unacknowledged immigration.

He said underestimates could affect the money Wales received from the Treasury under the Barnett Formula.

Two-thirds of UK local authorities contacted by the BBC in a recent survey said they did not have faith in the official number of migrants in their area. More than half said they would consider doing their own count.

The ONS said it had recently published plans to improve population estimates in 2007.

But Cardiff council leader Rodney Berman said, “We estimate the new methodology will cut Cardiff’s population by as much as 7,100.

“For instance, the numbers of overseas students staying in halls of residence will not be included in the new estimates and yet the ONS has come up with a formula which will see the same students taken off the overall population figures if they leave the city. This is absurd.”