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Brexit means Brexit (or let's do things differently and do them better)

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

Like the dull headache that accompanies a hangover, Brexit continues to provide consistent pain.

The uncertainty about what will happen once Britain leaves the European Union is occupying much mental capacity among not just politicians and civil servants at a national level but a local one too. The word on the street is it’s a bit of a worry for the general public and for business as well.

By its very complex nature the withdrawal process was always going to be protracted but the secretive and sometimes chaotic nature of the negotiations has left much to be desired for the vast majority of onlookers.

While there is a lot of intrigue about the progress (or lack of) over a deal for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, it’s what happens after that that is of key concern for councils – they are, after all, the ones operating at ground zero.

The most optimistic Brexiteers will argue the country has an unprecedented opportunity and everything will not only be fine but better than ever. On the other side the most worried Remoaners envisage apocalyptic scenarios with businesses failing en-masse, unemployment soaring, hate crime increasing, and society in general deteriorating.

Whatever happens, for better or worse, it will be councils that are closest to the action.

So it is encouraging that the leaders and mayors of this country’s 10 biggest cities are to meet with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier next week to discuss life in Britain after Brexit.

While one meeting is unlikely to change the course or tone of the international negotiations, it does at least recognise the fact these places are important not just to Britain’s future but Europe’s too.

The Local Government Association has consistently banged the drum about ensuring the sector’s voice is heard at the top table and it has repeatedly called to ensure powers are not just devolved from Brussels to Whitehall, but to town halls too.

There is little evidence that message has convinced the most important people in Parliament and Whitehall though.

So there was some concern about a letter recently sent from Sajid Javid to the Commons communities and local government committee chair Clive Betts (Lab). In it the housing and communities secretary said the government was considering how the formal consultative role of the four local government associations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with EU’s Committee of the Regions “may be replicated, in a non-statutory way, domestically”.

The words “non-statutory” obviously set alarm bells ringing.

Discussions between the government and local government are ongoing about this issue and Kevin Bentley (Con), chair of the LGA’s Brexit task and finish group, said the “shared ambition” of the four local government bodies is to maintain an advisory role and “continue our role in good law-making and ensure no deficiency in local government powers”.

Just as there has been a recognition of the role individual areas can play in delivering the industrial strategy, the government should also formally recognise the role councils can have in ensuring Britain not only survives post-Brexit but thrives too.

As former Local Government Association chair Baroness Eaton (Con) said in a Lords debate last month: “This [Brexit] is, after all, an opportunity to do things differently, and to do them better.”

By David Paine, acting news editor

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