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Inadequate Brexit funding 'better spent on tinned food'

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The government’s commitment to provide funding for councils to prepare for Brexit has drawn a mixed reaction from the local government sector, with one council leader telling LGC “no amount of money” could help deal with chaos expected from a disorderly exit from the EU.

Housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire announced this week that £56.5m would be made available to councils over two years.

In a written statement, Mr Brokenshire said district councils will receive £35,000 over the period, county councils have been allocated £175,000, and unitary councils will receive £210,000. Combined authorities will receive £182,000.

MHCLG previously announced it had secured £35m from the Treasury to assist councils with Brexit preparations. LGC understands the additional £21.5m will be funded from an MHCLG departmental underspend.

Mr Brokenshire added: “This will not be the only resources councils receive to fund Brexit costs. Government has been clear that departments will assess and, if appropriate, fund any potential new burdens arising on councils as part of EU exit work they are undertaking.”

The announcement was described as “positive” by the LGA, which welcomed the government’s decision to make funding available this year.

Kevin Bentley (Con), chairman of the LGA’s Brexit Taskforce, said: “We are pleased that the government has confirmed that any additional responsibilities resulting in new financial pressures for councils arising from Brexit will be fully funded.”

However, Crawley BC leader Peter Lamb (Lab) tweeted: “When divvied up, it’s not even enough to fund one additional environmental health officer for dealing with the added checks at Gatwick, better off spending it on tinned food and paraffin stoves.”

Cllr Lamb told LGC: “We’re not going to know how much it’s going to cost us to get adequately prepared because we don’t know what the deal is going to look like.

“This is about the government trying to create a sense that they have got a grip on things.

“The potential chaos that is going to be created goes far beyond what anyone can actually model and there is no amount of money that is going to help.”

Brigid Jones (Lab), deputy leader at Birmingham CC, said the funding was much-needed but “coming just 60 days before Brexit, it’s somewhat last minute.”

Cllr Jones called on ministers to provide certainty over local government finances beyond Britain’s planned departure from the EU.

“What really matters now though is our future funding,” she said. “Birmingham has benefited from over £1bn in EU funding and the West Midlands has received over £220m in the last four years alone. We need government assurances that these funding streams will be replaced post-2020.”

Mr Brokenshire’s announcement included a commitment to provide councils “facing immediate impacts from local ports” with a share of £1.5m this year.

Cllr Bentley (Con), deputy leader at Essex CC, said: “I am grateful to James Brokenshire who has listened to what councils were telling him about the extra support needed to deal with Brexit effectively.

“In order to maximise the usefulness of the money, we will be exploring how we might pool allocations across Essex.

“With two international airports and four major seaports, we need to ensure that all the necessary resilience is in place to deal with whatever EU exit scenario we are presented with.”

A spokesman for London Councils said: “With hard-pressed London boroughs having endured 63% reductions in funding since 2010, the government is right to release this money for local authorities’ Brexit contingency planning.

“Boroughs are working with central government to identify risks to our residents, businesses and communities posed by Brexit. This funding will help support this ongoing commitment.”

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