A new commission by the Local Government Association has been set up to try and come up with bespoke solutions to issues raised by Brexit.
The new post-Brexit England commission, chaired by Mark Hawthorne (Con), aims to evaluate the role of local government in England in the period following the transition phase - likely to end on 31 December 2020.
The commission aims to publish its findings in Spring 2019 at around the same time Britain’s membership of the European Union will end.
Cllr Hawthorne, who is also Gloucestershire CC leader, said: “It’s really important that local government is putting solutions on the table that show how we can change the balance of power and responsibilities in England.
“Finding solutions has got to be about more than the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. This requires the entirety of local government engaging with the entirety of government.”
LGC reported last month that MHCLG had failed to bid for additional resource from the Treasury to help prepare councils for the various outcomes that might follow Brexit.
Referencing the “huge amount of work” facing Whitehall and Westminster in preparation for Brexit, Cllr Hawthorne said the government should be “looking to and calling on the expertise, energy and enthusiasm that sits within local government” to make Brexit a success.
The commission will principally look into issues surrounding skills and productivity challenges, as well as key infrastructure pressures, Cllr Hawthorne said.
“The fact is that we’re going to have a huge shortage of skills [after Brexit], with 4.2 million to six million people in this country with low skills. There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done on broadband connectivity, but statistics on mobile phone [signal] are also pretty dire,” he said.
The County Councils Network has reported today that 72% of England’s counties experience internet download speeds that fall below the national average speed of 45 megabits per second.
The Commons work and pensions committee said in a report on Wednesday the government must prevent a “potentially disastrous” interruption in funding for employment and skills support in England - particularly in its most deprived areas.
Cllr Hawthorne campaigned to remain in the European Union and co-signed a letter by Conservative councillors in support of the Remain campaign.
The councillors wrote to the editor of the Telegraph in June 2016 saying: “A vote to leave the EU will put jobs in danger. Prices will rise, mortgages will be at risk and funding for local schools and hospitals will fall. This is a risk that we, as Conservative councillors, are not willing to take with our economy and the health of our local communities.”
Cllr Hawthorne told LGC it would not be possible to “just dust down the devolution agenda of two or three years ago”, as solutions must be made relevant to the challenges that will arise after the transition period has lapsed.
“We’ll be knocking on the doors of Whitehall and every department to make sure we’re having those conversations,” said Cllr Hawthorne. “When they’re looking for the answers to some of their questions, they’ll know that someone in local government is ready with suggestions and answers for how that can be tackled.”