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Where's the PM when you need her?

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

Parliament has now voted to begin the Brexit process and the Supreme Court has ruled that the government does not need formal approval from the devolved administrations, so how much less of a role faces local government?

There have been vague indications of some sort of involvement for the sector, but none has materialised so far.

Yet, from economic development, to housing, to community cohesion, Brexit negotiation decisions will – in the manner of things often said to roll downhill – eventually land on councils to sort out.

Will they though have any real influence over the negotiations?

To judge from the situation in northern England, the outlook is not promising.

A bevy of northern Labour elected mayors and leaders have this week addressed a pained remonstrance to prime minister Theresa May over her failure to accept an invitation they issued last July to meet them.

Greater Manchester’s interim elected mayor Tony Lloyd, Liverpool City Council elected mayor Joe Anderson, and combined authority chairs Paul Watson (North East) Sir Steve Houghton (Sheffield City Region) and Peter Box (West Yorkshire) are not figures accustomed to being ignored and they have noted with disfavour – perhaps alarm – that Ms May often visits Wales and Scotland, but not them.

Mr Lloyd said: “The prime minster needs to urgently rethink her decision to snub the north of England.

“I know that leaders across the north are concerned that while an economically powerful London and an increasingly politically important Scotland are having their say, our voices are being drowned out.”

Their case is that Ms May has repeatedly talked of a Brexit that ‘works’ for the whole country, not bits of it.

What, though, do they want to talk about? Just possibly the issues highlighted in Centre for Cities annual Cities Outlook survey, published this week.

The findings showed that large parts of the north – including places that voted ‘leave’ in droves – trade a lot with the EU.

Sunderland, for example, has the UK’s highest rate of exports per job – almost entirely from the car industry – and will presumably wish to continue to export its wares.

Cities Outlook found though a genuine regional difference, with the north and Midlands more reliant on exporting manufactured goods while services predominated in the south.

The north may therefore need something different from Ms May in a Brexit deal. While barriers to services exports would damage the south, high tariffs on goods would clobber the north.

Caught between the economic power of London and its commuter belt on one hand, and the devolved administrations’ powers to mitigate negative effects of Brexit on the other, it’s perhaps no wonder northern leaders feel a bit beleaguered. Maybe Ms May will call soon…

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