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Dawes: No-deal Brexit could mean councils take on ports role

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Councils could be expected to take on responsibility for inspections at ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s permanent secretary has told MPs.

Giving evidence to a Commons committee on Monday afternoon, Melanie Dawes said the housing and communities secretary would “soon” be making an announcement about the allocation of the £35m earmarked to support councils’ Brexit preparations.

However, Ms Dawes said councils may also receive additional funding via other government departments.

She told the housing, communities and local government select committee: “In some cases you have additional responsibilities that other government departments may need councils to take, say inspections or work in ports. In that case it’s making sure new burdens funding is provided.”

Ms Dawes was pressed by MPs on whether the £35m, which was the ministry’s share of a £2bn Brexit fund, would be enough to cover the cost to the ministry and local government of preparing for Brexit but she refused to be drawn.

Committee chair Clive Betts (Lab) said: “If I was to say you got half of what you asked for, you wouldn’t be correcting me would you?”

Ms Dawes replied: “I wouldn’t be commenting.”

She was also asked whether a no-deal Brexit would be considered a “civil emergency”. She said that was a “technical” issue but pointed out the ministry had recently updated its guidance on how councils should manage civil emergencies, working with partners.

She added: “I think the best way for us to work with local government and partners in a no-deal scenario is to mobilise those structures.”

Giving more detail about the ministry’s preparations for Brexit she said 60 “resilience advisors” had been appointed from within its existing workforce who will be located in local areas to help them prepare for Brexit, including the potential impact on “ports, trading standards and adult social care”.

In addition, nine council chief executives from “around the regions” have been appointed to a local delivery board, Ms Dawes said.

Ms Dawes was also asked why there had been no formal proposals for the promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which minsters have said will replace current EU funding of local areas. She said this was because the approach to the fund would be different in a no-deal scenario as the government could take advantage of new freedoms sooner.

She said the government hoped to publish some more details soon and had been engaging with local enterprise partnerships and the devolved administrations in the meantime.

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