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Failing to plan for Brexit is ignoring the obvious

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

From local authorities which are failing to get a grip of their finances to councils which are not doing enough to keep vulnerable children safe, not ignoring the obvious was a key theme that ran through this year’s Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers summit.

The challenge posed was how long can the sector remain wilfully blind on these matters and more? The sense, as chiefs and senior officers departed Brighton, was that they cannot do so anymore: now is the time to stand up and be counted.

Whether that sense of urgency extends to Brexit remains to be seen.

LGC’s Confidence Survey found 70% of respondents said their council had not prepared a plan for Brexit.

There are some obvious reasons for this, not least the fact the sector has been largely kept in the dark about what is going on as Theresa May has struggled to stop the government collapsing. Meanwhile negotiations over a final Brexit deal with the European Union have moved at a glacial pace, with little light emerging.

While councils’ difficulties are understandable, there is an argument that they should not sit around waiting for ministers and senior civil servants to get their act together. Brexit is a major issue that will have an impact on every area – its residents and its businesses.

For example, the independent Migration Advisory Committee last month said it is “seriously concerned” about the impact of Brexit on the social care workforce. The committee warned potential restrictions on migrant workers could put the sector under “tremendous pressure”.

How councils will respond to this we do not really know – because most do not have a plan. This is worrying.

Tower Hamlets LBC is one council which has decided to grasp the nettle by setting up its own Brexit Commission. This will do more than produce standard impact assessments as it will gather evidence from experts in the voluntary and public sectors as well as business and academia.

Chief executive Will Tuckley told LGC: “Our aspiration is that it will provide the most comprehensive understanding yet of the likely cross-sector impact of Brexit on a single place.”

Once complete, the commission’s findings will help the council to better plan for Brexit’s impact while it will also form the basis for the borough’s lobbying.

Despite a dearth of information Tower Hamlets has shown the sector that preparing for Brexit can be done: it is just a matter of leadership.

Plymouth City Council attempted in August to get the government to hand over any information and analysis on the potential impact of Brexit on the city’s economy. Unsurprisingly nothing has materialised.

Does that mean places like Plymouth should just sit back and pretend it’s not their problem?

Brexit is hardly going to be a surprise – everyone has known about it for 28 months, and there are five months to go before Britain officially leaves the European Union (assuming all goes to plan…).

While there may be many barriers to preparing the very best plan for Brexit, residents and businesses will be looking to their local authorities to help protect them from their worst of any potential negative impacts and also exploit any potential opportunities.

A failure to plan for Brexit really would be ignoring the obvious.

By David Paine, acting news editor

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