Which ever way you voted in the referendum, there can be no doubt Brexit is going to impact all our lives in a multitude of ways.
Local government is at the heart of the debate about the implications of Britain’s exit from the EU and, as a former chair of the Local Government Association’s Brexit task and finish group, I have a particular interest in getting the right agreement for councils on a way forward.
I was pleased when Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government minister Lord Bourne recently announced that, when we leave the EU, there will be a process established to consult local government on matters currently dealt with in the committee of the regions. I see this as an important lobbying win for the LGA.
At the moment, this EU committee provides local government with a formal role in the European law and policy-making process. Since the referendum result, the LGA – along with our partner organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – has consistently argued that Brexit should not simply mean a transfer of powers from Brussels to Westminster, Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay. Rather, it should lead to new freedoms and flexibilities for the benefit of residents and local communities. The future prosperity of our country requires a decentralised approach, based on the capacity that councils have to lead their local area.
We agree that the best solution is a new consultative process for local government on the legislative issues that affect it, which would help ensure that decisions are brought closer to local communities.
My successor as chairman of the Brexit task and finish Group, Kevin Bentley (Con), was giving evidence to the public administration and constitutional affairs committee the day after Lord Bourne made his announcement. Kevin took the opportunity to welcome the government’s decision and to state, on behalf of the LGA, that we look forward to meeting with ministers in due course to discuss the precise details of the arrangements that will be put in place.
Another key Brexit-related issue the LGA is lobbying on is the future of structural funding. Following the referendum, we secured an early win when the prime minister pledged to create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to replace the funding that local areas currently receive from the EU.
Having welcomed this, we have been working with the government on the details of how this scheme will be administered. In particular, we see this as a real opportunity to introduce a new, more localised model, rather than create a like-for-like replacement of current EU funding programmes which are often held up in bureaucracy and delay. Put simply, Brexit provides an opportunity to give local areas a greater say over how to create a new and simplified regional aid fund.
Finally, Brexit provides the opportunity to look at existing EU legislation and examine what laws and standards we may wish to retain and those which we would seek to amend.
The raw figures are that there are more than 12,000 EU regulations currently in force in the UK, as well as 7,900 UK statutory instruments implementing EU directives. Many of these regulations form part of local authorities’ responsibilities, or impact significantly upon them.
An obvious example of where EU-origin laws might be made better is public procurement. Currently councils have to follow EU-wide advertising and award procedures when they buy goods and services. Not only does this process often sit uneasily with supporting the local economy, it can also take between three and 18 months – twice as long as typical private sector procurement.
Post-Brexit, a lighter-touch system which simplifies this process, and provides more flexibility to promote local growth and local employment, is vital. It will enable councils to procure to shorter timescales and mean lower administration costs for businesses, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.
There are now just 12 months until we leave the EU and enter the transition period. There is much to do to ensure that local government and the communities we serve are ready for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. I am delighted that the LGA has established itself as a key player in the Brexit debate and I look forward to updating LGC readers on developments.
David Simmonds (Con), deputy chairman, LGA