Brexit is a catalyst for change.
New economic ties will be developed, different social contracts will be formed, regulations and laws will be repatriated and our outlook on the world and how we are viewed will change.
These are issues that can seem too big to comprehend, best left to national and international decision makers to deliberate but Brexit affects us all. The voice of regions such as Cornwall will be crucial to ensuring that whatever new dispensations are put in place will allow regions to have more control over their future economic and social wellbeing.
Since the referendum, Cornwall has been proactive in creating a cross-sector consensus on meeting the challenges and make the most of the opportunities of Brexit. We convened a Brexit summit in July 2016, which 40 leaders from the public, private and voluntary sectors of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly attended. Delegates discussed the local economic and social issues likely to be caused by Brexit.
A cross-sector ‘Futures Group’ was formed, chaired by Cornwall chief executive, Kate Kennally. The group is tasked with developing the principles of a desired post-2020 regional funding settlement, reinforcing the messages from the summit on community cohesion and underlining that we remain open for business and to European and international partnerships. We held a series of roundtables in late 2016 to explore the potential implications, risks and opportunities of Brexit for some of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s key sectors, including tourism, agriculture, fisheries, low-carbon energy and higher education.
The Futures Group published the findings of these roundtables at the end of January in the report, A Catalyst for Change: Implications, Risks and Opportunities of Brexit for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Its title reflected that roundtable participants felt Brexit should be seen as a catalyst to bring about the devolution of further powers and budgets, so Cornwall can foster strong and resilient communities.
We reconvened the Brexit Summit in February 2017 to give the original delegates the opportunity to hear about progress and to identify priorities as part of our response to the industrial strategy and a forthcoming white paper for Cornwall.
Cornwall Council also hosted a discussion with the Department for Communities & Local Government, the Local Government Association and other south-west council chief executives on the impact of Brexit on ‘place’ in the region. We have organised an additional workshop to explore the implications of Brexit for community cohesion. Cornwall Council also welcomed the Commons committee for exiting the European Union to Truro in February. The committee took evidence from the Futures Group, the agriculture and environment sectors, and other local businesses to inform its inquiry into the government’s Brexit negotiation objectives. The committee commented on the strength of the ‘Team Cornwall’ approach and how the council had been a convener of positive partnerships.
While there remains a lot of work to do, Cornwall has started the process of shaping its thoughts and building a consensus on the opportunities and challenges of Brexit. The work that it has undertaken to better understand local needs, wants and ambitions reinforces the need for regions across the UK to form an integral part of the Brexit discourse.
John Pollard (Ind), leader, Cornwall Council