I write to update you on the latest position on the Ukraine crisis, and Kent’s part in the response to it, following my last note on 2 March and our media release earlier this week. I am sure we are all watching events in the country unfold with the same sense of horror. This is, I believe, an issue on which we are united across parties and groups. I want to share some details of Kent’s local response and support for the actions being taken nationally.
More than four million people in Ukraine are expected to be displaced as the fighting continues. To provide a safe and warm welcome for some of those refugees here in the UK, the Government has expanded its Family Sponsorship scheme and launched its ‘Homes for Ukraine’ initiative. This scheme, which went live today, will enable individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to host Ukrainian refugees and their immediate relations who have no family ties to the UK, in their homes, spare rooms or unoccupied residential self-contained accommodation. Applications can be made via the Homes for Ukraine government website
Hosts will be offered a tax-free payment of £350 a month to open their homes to refugees. Hosts will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.
The Government has also announced that local authorities will be provided with funding (£10,500 per person) to deliver the wraparound support needed by refugees coming to the UK, with an additional top-up for child education. KCC is currently discussing how this can be provided, working together with all relevant partners including our district, borough and city council colleagues. This builds on the support we already provide together to other refugees including those from Syria and Afghanistan.
There are many details of the operation of the scheme, and in particular the process for matching sponsors to refugees, which remain unclear, although it is expected that charities, faith groups and diaspora communities will play a central role in this. I have taken part, as have senior officers, in ministerial webinars on the operation of the scheme and continue to press for greater clarity. There are many issues, including discharge of safeguarding responsibilities, that need to be addressed, and ministers have committed to listen to local government’s knowledge and feedback.
Last night at the meeting of the Joint Chief Executives, it was agreed to stand up the Kent Resilience Forum (KRF) to ensure all relevant partners, including district, borough and city councils, as well as the voluntary sector are brought together to co-ordinate the new Homes for Ukraine scheme in Kent and mitigate risk. KCC Officers will chair the regular Strategic Coordinating Group (SCG) and the Communications and Media cell and partners are currently putting forward representatives from across the system for the various other cells. The first SCG will be held on Monday next week. This form of Kent-wide collaboration proved its worth during both the pandemic and the end of Brexit transition. I will keep Members updated as to significant developments in this work.
As well as taking all practical measures to support government schemes, we will also continue to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people in more symbolic ways. The Ukrainian flag continues to fly over County Hall which is also lit in Ukrainian colours.
It is heartening to know there are so many ways in which we all can support the Ukrainian people at the centre of this atrocity. There are a number of charities providing humanitarian relief in Ukraine. This includes the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Appeal, which the UK Government is match-funding, pound-for-pound, £25 million of public donations. Many other organisations across Kent, the UK and internationally have launched appeals, and there are some simple steps that can be taken to ensure money is safe and being used effectively. Visit https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ukraine-what-you-can-do-to-help for how to make donations safely online.
I will provide Members with further updates as the scheme, and our response to the crisis develop..
With best wishes
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Leader of Kent County Council
Member for Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley