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Devoid of a compelling offer, councils will remain in the dark on Brexit

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LGC’s essential commentary on this week’s Brexit coverage 

Whether you voted leave or remain there is a general collective will and desire, in the public sector at least, to make a success of Brexit. The country has made its bed so we may as well try and lie in something remotely comfy, preferably with plump pillows and a cosy duvet.

The reality, though, is far from a bed of roses.

Speaking at an LSE event on Brexit earlier this month, Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter said all economic forecasts point to a downturn once Britain leaves the European Union.

“There are degrees of badness – the scale will be bigger in some places and less in others but we are talking degrees of red,” said Mr Carter.

According to the government’s own impact analysis, leaked last month, there could be a drop in economic output ranging from about 1% to as much as 16% depending on the type of deal agreed and the part of the country you live in.

While the south-west was considered to be one of the areas at the lower end of the impact scale, outside of London Cornwall is the local enterprise partnership area which receives the greatest funding from Europe. As a result it is at the riskier end of the scale if the government’s replacement prosperity fund does not match what areas get now.

In written evidence to the communities and local government committee’s inquiry on Brexit, Cornwall Council said: “One significant problem with local government representation in the Brexit process is as follows: at present there is no forum through which representatives of English local authorities can engage directly with government ministers on the implications of Brexit for local government in England.”

While former communities secretary Greg Clark had said in his 2016 Local Government Association conference speech that he had “argued successfully… for English local government to be part of the negotiations on the terms of our exit”, Cornwall Council said now “it is unclear where ‘the table’ is and who sits on it.”

Such frustration is not confined to Cornwall though.

Appearing before the Commons communities and local government committee this week, Greater Manchester CA mayor Andy Burnham (Lab) said areas are operating “in the dark” when it comes to Brexit.

But is it all the government’s fault?

Tees Valley CA mayor Ben Houchen (Con), also appearing before MPs alongside Mr Burnham on Monday, said ministers and civil servants had challenged the mayors to have “clear asks in order for meetings to take place” but added “one of the biggest problems” the mayors had was agreeing on what those asks are.

Much of the discussion and debate to date has been defensive; whether it be about fears over funding streams, community cohesion or condensed workforces.

Looking from the outside in, the government might be forgiven for wanting to avoid the whingeing – it has enough of that deal with from within.

Councils, like they are now, will be a fundamental part of post-Brexit Britain – whether it be reducing the impact on their communities or exploiting opportunities.

But as Localis chief executive Liam Booth-Smith points out in LGC this week, the sector has not yet come up with a compelling, coherent argument and offer to the government about how it can help with Brexit.

Until it does it is likely to remain in the dark.

By David Paine, acting news editor

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