03:20PM, Friday 03 March 2017
Community cohesion figures, charities, religious figures and councillors from Slough have hit back at a BBC Panorama documentary exploring the impact of immigration in the town.
Monday night's show, titled 'Life in Immigration Town' shows presenter Richard Bilton revisiting Slough having filmed a documentary there 10 years ago.
He looks at how much immigration has changed Slough and touches on topics like cultural integration, the effect of Brexit and racism towards Slough’s Roma community.
He speaks to a white British couple who are moving to Norfolk because they feel immigration has changed Slough too much.
It also includes a flash back to a woman claiming 10 years ago that only 'Polish bread' could be found in the town rather than Kingsmill.
The documentary praises migrant labour for making Slough one of the UK’s biggest local economies, with a 1.4 per cent unemployment rate and an average weekly wage of £558.
Despite immigration's positive impacts, Richard Bilton speaks to older immigrants who want to see a clampdown, blaming immigrants for draining public resources.
An Asian man was shown in the show calling Slough's Roma community 'disgusting people'.
It also showed Thames Valley Police's PC Nick Bond calling them 'the only fly in the ointment' over complaints of them intimidating people by hanging around in large groups in public.
Slough's MP Fiona Mactaggart has accused the BBC of a pattern of Slough-bashing with its programmes.
She said: "The BBC behaves as if it has a licence to sneer at Slough, with The Office, Making Slough Happy and now this programme.
"We have had enough. I am proud to represent one of the most successful hard-working places in Britain and I don’t need BBC film makers to tell me what’s wrong with it."
Deputy leader of Slough's Conservative group Councillor Rayman Bains (Con, Upton) had strong words to say about the BBC show.
He said: "It was lazy, click bait journalism that took a superficial look at the complex issues of immigration in order to provoke outrage by picking on two easy groups of immigrants [Romanian and Polish] and a town inaccurately maligned in the press over this issue.
"Did we learn anything new about immigration and did the programme add to the debate in a constructive way? No.
"The programme though quite rightly highlighted that immigration has had a positive impact on Slough in terms of job creation, regeneration and busted the myth that immigrant workers are low paid.
"I was also proud of the number of people in the show who espoused the benefits immigration had brought to the town"
"The show made a number of unfounded comments on the negativity of immigration but failed to back this scare-mongering up with facts."
However Cllr Bains has criticised the lack of diversity of Slough Borough Council's cabinet, which has no white members.
He added: "For me, it doesn't represent the diverse make up of the town and depicts Slough in a negative light.
"The council leader sent out a tweet asking on the back of the show asking ‘what can we improve?’
"Well, having a more ethnically diverse cabinet that also contains more women will be a good start."
Chairman of Slough-based community cohesion group Mustaqbill Future Foundation Nazar Lodhi was disappointed to hear older immigrants criticising newer immigrants.
Mr Lodhi, who came from Pakistan in the 1960s, accused older immigrants of forgetting racism they once suffered.
He said: "I don't think the older immigrants should criticise or make nasty comments about the new immigrants.
"I think the fear factor makes people believe they are going to lose jobs.
"People said the same thing about us when we came in the 60s.”
Commenting on the way the BBC portrayed Slough's Roma community, Mr Lodhi said: "A time will come in say 30 years when the Roma community settles then the other communities come and they make the same comments."
Community cohesion campaigner Zafar Ali said the British couple planning to leave town was not representative of Slough’s white Brits.
Mr Ali said: "My experience of speaking with the indigenous people of Slough is very positive.”
He said the BBC should have interviewed one of the town's community cohesion groups to see the work they do and accused it of not covering Slough’s economic success enough.
He added: "We get on well in this community because we're a successful boomtown.”
He said in times of economic hardship, people often blame immigrants and ethnic minorities, but Slough’s success has minimised this.
"If I was watching that and I didn't live in Slough I wouldn't want to put a foot in Slough,” he added.
Mr Ali said many of Slough's Roma community live in bed and breakfast accommodation and are forced to leave after 10am.
"What are you supposed to do apart from hang around with each other for safety."
He said the police and community groups should provide community halls so the perceived threat is dealt with rather than just telling them to move on.
Rob Deeks, project manager of youth charity Aik Saath, was disappointed his volunteers did not get to have their say.
He told the Express: "Panorama had approached Aik Saath when making the programme and some of our young volunteers had expressed an interest in being involved in it.
"This never developed and they are disappointed they weren't featured as they felt their perspectives weren't represented in the final cut.
"Within the documentary itself the Roma community was described as 'dogs.'
"This made difficult viewing but reminded me of why it is so important that we do what we do.
“While there are people that think it is acceptable to brand an entire community in this manner then we still have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves truly 'together as one'.
“That said, I do believe Slough is a remarkably cohesive place and I believe there is more understanding and unity among young people in Slough than in many other areas.
"Slough has much to be proud of and though I think the documentary touched on this it could have gone far further."
Reverend Sue Lepp, curate of the Langley Parish Marish, herself a Canadian immigrant, thought the BBC did not focus enough on Slough’s cultural groups standing side-by-side.
She said: "I was sorry that Panorama did not focus on the people, church and community groups that are working hard towards making Slough a better place despite the social changes.
"Yes, some people voted for Brexit and yes, some people feel immigration is out of control but there is more to the story and life of Slough.
"The Christian community of Slough works to welcome all people. We do well to remember that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees."
Slough Central Mosque trustee Muhammed Ayub said: "I personally think that the BBC is completely out of touch.
"Personally I think the community is glued together."
He said the documentary 'doesn't represent the feeling of the people of Slough'.
He accused the media of exaggerating fears and tensions over immigration and multi-cultures.
“I haven’t seen any tension,” he added.
SBC's leader Sohail Munnawar said: "Slough is a proud town. It’s cohesive, vibrant and rapidly changing.
"Our residents are our life blood and our diversity is our biggest strength.
"Our priority is to put all our residents first in everything we do and ensure they truly feel the benefit change is bringing.
"This means listening to their concerns and working in partnership with them to ensure we improve the quality of life in our town and enhancing the life chances of everybody who lives here."
“Many residents I speak to are worried about class sizes expanding, doctors waiting times increasing, our town getting fuller, finding well paid work, our roads getting busier and housing becoming ever more expensive.
“These are legitimate concerns and people should feel they can raise them.”
He warned not to blame migrants on problems caused by the Government’s ‘endless austerity’.
Councillor Madhuri Bedi (Lab, Foxborough), a member of Slough's Hindu community, said the show did not represent the Slough she knows.
She said: "I was really disappointed with the Panorama programme.
“I was born in London to Hindu parents who taught me the importance of celebrating and respecting all cultures and above all they taught me how similar we all are, it is not one’s religion we should look at but rather the similarities we all have.
"I moved to Slough in 1995 and it has been a wonderful home to me.
"I have seen it develop and become the booming town it is and so much of that is through migration.
"I would like Panorama to come back and attend our diversity event on May 20 which would really show them the cohesiveness and true values of our town but I know they won't as their job is to blow fire under a pot that is not lit."
On May 20 a multi-cultural dance event celebrating Slough's diversity will be held in Slough Town Centre.