The Government’s Faith and Integration minister Lord Nicholas Bourne has visited Boston ahead of a decision over the allocation of bids for the £100 million Controlling Migration Fund.
Lord Bourne met with a variety of people in the town today (Friday) including council leaders, officials, volunteers, men and women helping with language provision, cadets, U3A and the Lithuanian and Polish communities.
Lord Bourne is the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Wales, and for Faith and Integration at the Department of Communities and Local Government.
He confirmed to The Standard that there were five bids for the £100 million Controlling Migration Fund in Lincolnshire - with one in Boston, which today’s ‘very good meetings’ will feed into.
He said he couldn’t make any announcement about the decision, but asked whether the town needed cash to deal with its issues he said: “As a Government minister I don’t want to pre-empt a decision, but certainly to tackle some of the challenges there is a financial side to that certainly.”
He also recognised that ‘some of the key elements’ of Boston’s bid were ‘central to Government’ policy.
Lord Bourne concluded his tour of the town at St Botolph’s Church, where he met with parishioners and volunteers who ran the Boston Connected Community Table lunches during February.
He told The Standard the town’s MP, Matt Warman, was ‘clearly doing a very important job’ in tackling some of the issues the town but said he had also wanted to see them himself.
He said that from what he had heard, the town was facing the issues ‘very well’ but that there were clearly important challenges with housing, employment and integration.
He said he had been pleased to see people were getting help honing their English language skills, which he said was ‘vital’.
“It’s something we’re all agreed on – to be an integral part of Britain you need to learn the language, and it’s great to see people in Boston are making provision for this and encouraging people to take part,” he said.
“Boston has many positive things I’ve seen today. No Government can magic away some of the challenges Boston faces but there is much that’s happening that’s very positive in terms of language provision and the council – indeed, all the council leaders I’ve spoken to are aware of all the issues and their responsibilities, so, let’s accentuate the positives – there are some very good things happening locally.
Lord Bourne said he would not criticise the people of Boston for exercising their democratic rights in the EU Referendum and said the Government would not either.
On Tuesday, voted to amend the Brexit Bill following a Labour-led move to guarantee the rights of EU nationals already living in the UK.
The three-hour debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill saw a majority vote in favour by 358 votes to 256.
It means the Bill will have to return to the House of Commons for further debate – but Prime Minister Theresa May has said this will not delay her triggering Article 50, signifying the official process of withdrawal from the EU.
Lord Bourne does not believe the House of Lords will hold up the process. He said: “First of all, the Government has a clear mandate as result of the referendum to go ahead and negotiate our withdrawal from the EU. Our role in the House of Lords is to listen to the arguments and discuss it but it isn’t to hold up that process.
“I’d be surprised if it does: I think the Prime Minister will be exercising the Article 50 trigger I feel sure that will happen and then, of course, there’s process of negotiation which will involve more detailed scrutiny.
“I think the PM is playing a very powerful role in ensuring we get a good deal and I think her approach has been demonstrated recently in Copeland.
“We owe it to the people on both sides to go ahead with the result. It’s pointless to have a democratic exercise and then ignore the result.”
Asked if the process will indeed bring benefit to Boston he said: “I hope so. I’m optimistic, I think – ultimately yes.”