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Last Thursday (08.08.19), the Cable published an article regarding Bristol City Council and the Home Office’s Rough Sleeping Support Service – a controversial programme regarding the targeting of rough sleepers for immigration enforcement.

The new programme follows a similar Home Office scheme that local authorities participated in, including Bristol Council, until it was deemed unlawful nationally in 2017.

The Cable recognises that the Mayor and council have been publicly critical of Home Office policy. Having covered the hostile environment extensively, the Cable appreciates the need for sensitivity when reporting on this matter. On reflection, the article should have made clearer (further up in the piece) that Bristol City Council has not made any referrals of rough sleepers under this scheme. The article should have also said the council would only do so in order for people to be housed more quickly.

The article stated that Bristol City Council would not join the 11 councils who publicly stated they will not cooperate with the RSSS scheme and will only share data with the Home Office with the “explicit consent” of rough sleepers in all cases.

When asked if Bristol City Council would join the 11 other councils in opposing the scheme, the council spokesperson did not explicitly state the council would be joining them. They said: “Bristol City Council has not made referrals to the Rough Sleeping Support Service (RSSS) and would only work with them in order for people to be housed more quickly by reducing delays in obtaining settled status.”

The spokesperson added: “The council’s view is that referrals should only take place after an individual has firstly received legal advice from a registered OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) and has given their informed consent.”

The council stated that referrals should only take place when informed consent is given. Our journalist’s reading of ‘should only’ was that of a statement of intent, as opposed to a firm policy obligation – as made by the other local authorities.

However since the publication of our article, Mayor Marvin Rees has written a response on his blog. He has clarified the council’s position, saying it is exactly the same as the other 11 councils. The Cable welcomes this news.

Finally, our reporting is always up for scrutiny, but we do not accept public officials calling into question the integrity and motives of our journalists. We hope that in our respective roles robust and respectful debate can take place.

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