A council has disputed claims that asylum seekers have cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

The Conservatives took out a full-page advertisement in The Argus yesterday to highlight Labour's "asylum chaos" ahead of next month's election.

The advert, one of many placed in newspapers in marginal seats across England, said: "Brighton and Hove Council has had to spend over £9 million supporting the asylum system since 1997 money that could have been spent on essential local services."

But Brighton and Hove City Council pointed out that the majority of this money was reimbursed by central Government.

A council spokesman said: "Only a small proportion of the money spent on asylum related work comes from council tax.

"Since 1997, around £9 million has been spent locally but around £8 million of this is repaid from Home Office and Central Government grants.

"That £8 million could not have been spent by this council on other local services.

"The actual cost to the council is under £200,000 a year. Most of that is spent on support for children or unaccompanied minors."

Finance councillor Simon Burgess said: "The Tories are claiming that tax rises in the council since 1997 have been as a result of asylum seekers.

"This is a claim as dishonest as it is opportunist, given that a substantial proportion of money spent by local authorities on asylum seekers is reimbursed by the Home Office's immigration and nationality department. In any case, the total money spent is nothing like the cited rises of council tax."

The Labour councillor said: "It is really sad they should resort to these fear tactics."

But Mike Weatherley, Conservative candidate for Brighton Pavilion, defended his party's claims.

He said: "Regardless of how it's sliced up between national and local Government, it's still taxpayers' money and was spent in Brighton.

"If the money hadn't had to be spent dealing with the chaos of the asylum system it would be available for more productive and positive things in Brighton and Hove."

Friday, April 22