Seventy per cent of council chief executives and senior officers have admitted their authority has no plan for how to deal with the potential consequences of Britain leaving the European Union.
does your council have a plan for brexit
This response - which could be construed as either complacency or an appropriate response to what remains largely unknown - comes despite a widespread belief that Brexit will have a negative impact on their areas. Just 6% of those who took part in LGC’s Confidence Survey 2018 also said they agreed with the following statement on Brexit: “I’m all for it - I think it will provide local government with greater freedoms and flexibility”.
In other striking findings, the survey of 145 chief executives and senior managers revealed 59% of respondents, the largest proportion for this question, agreed Brexit “will be devastating for the community my authority serves”.
Hover over interactive graphic for percentage breakdown
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & local Government has confirmed the ministerial Brexit delivery board involving local government representatives, announced in July, has met twice and will continue to meet monthly.
A spokesperson said the government is in regular contact with councils about Brexit “preparedness” and is working closely with organisations such as the Local Government Association and County Councils Network to share information.
The spokesperson added regional seminars with councils and representatives from other government departments are also being planned “to discuss the practical impacts of Brexit”.
However, more than half of senior officers who responded to the survey, carried out at the beginning of the month, said their council had been “left completely in the dark” by the government on Brexit so far, with just 3% saying the government had offered “adequate information”.
Invited to comment on their response, one senior officer did not hold back when they highlighted a key concern over what arrangements would replace EU structural funding.
They said: “We have had some information on the registration arrangements for EU citizens and the ‘no deal’ explanatory notes but sweet FA on the real detail, including the UK shared prosperity fund.”
Presumably referring to controversial non-disclosure agreements (NDA) signed by some large businesses concerning their discussions with ministers on Brexit, another said: “There has been engagement with some specific services but far too many uses of NDAs to allow for effective corporate planning within the organisation and across the council area.”
Another added: “In terms of local government there hasn’t been a dialogue or a particularly directed conversation [about Brexit]. There isn’t an in-depth conversation going on about what we’re going to do if X, Y or Z happens.”
One respondent acknowledged there would be initial challenges but was keen to emphasise there is some cause for optimism.
“The short-term risks and impacts are clear, the long-term opportunities are not so clear, but to suggest there are not long-term opportunities in Brexit is misleading,” they said.
Bromley LBC leader Colin Smith (Con) told LGC his council did not have a strategic plan as it had not seen “solid evidence” that developments would impact on providing services.
He added: “But can we guarantee nothing will happen if Brexit goes badly? Clearly there may be some fallout… so that’s why it’s important to keep sufficient reserves so if there are any short-term blips we are in a position to manage them.”
Cllr Smith stressed this did not mean Bromley was maintaining reserves “in case Brexit goes wrong” but because the outcome is currently unknown.
However, some councils take a different view and are investing time and resources in analysing potential outcomes.
Tower Hamlets LBC recently established a Brexit Commission examining the impact that departure from the EU will have on its local economy, civil society and public services.
Writing for LGC recently, chief executive Will Tuckley said the aspiration was to “provide the most comprehensive understanding yet of the likely cross-sector impact of Brexit on a single place”.
He added the report would “form the basis for a lobbying and outreach effort”.
Calderdale MBC has prepared a detailed risk assessment of potential Brexit scenarios and chief executive Robin Tuddenham has recommended a series of “mitigation steps”. These include identifying a lead officer in every department for Brexit to monitor negotiations and government guidance, investigating supply chains of vital goods and working with businesses to ensure potential increases in import costs are not passed on to vulnerable residents.
The report also recommended an action plan is prepared for the possibility of reduced business rates revenue as firms move out of the area, in the context of a reduction in resources available for non-statutory services, and a potential increase in demand for statutory provision if there is an economic downturn.
fifty seven per cent
Mr Tuddenham, who is also community wellbeing spokesman for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said the implications of Brexit will “take time to understand” and described the assessment as “an initial attempt to ensure we are as prepared as possible [which] will be a matter we will give continuous attention to over coming months.”
Paul Swinney, head of policy at think-tank Centre for Cities, told LGC he was not surprised that most councils did not have plans in place for the UK leaving the EU because many of the decisions that will emerge from Brexit will be “national in nature” and modelling potential impacts was very difficult as there are “so many moving parts” to negotiations.
He referred to a recent claim by Bristol City Council mayor Marvin Rees (Lab) that he has had no interaction with government, despite sending former Brexit secretary David Davis his council’s research into the potential impact on the city.
Mr Swinney also pointed to the fact that the leaders of the Core Cities group had earlier this year independently met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier due to a lack of direct contact with the UK government on the issue. At the time Core Cities chair and Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake (Lab) said: “I think there’s a frustration across local government that as a sector we’re not being listened to and our experience hasn’t been brought into the mix.”
Commenting on this perceived lack of engagement, Mr Swinney said: “That causes an issue because these things play out differently across the country and for the government to understand those impacts in different areas when it comes to striking that deal.”
However, he added there also appeared to be limited planning for the impact of Brexit on a combined authority or regional level.
“Because local authorities hold such little policy power over their economies in particular, even if they did have that information it might be quite difficult for them to act on that,” Mr Swinney said.
“The big challenge is there are so many moving parts in this, it is very difficult to model what the impact will be. We don’t even know what type of deal we’re going to get with the EU, never mind being able to say ‘these are the potential implications’.”