The government has yet to involve the Local Government Association in discussions about Brexit, LGC has been told, amid signs of a diminished influence with ministers.
Nick Forbes, leader of the Labour group on the LGA, told LGC “nothing has happened” in relation to local government being involved in Brexit negotiations since the sector was promised in the summer it would have a seat at the table.
He told LGC: “We don’t know who else is at the table, whose house it’s in, or what street it’s in… In terms of what that [offer] looks like nobody really has much idea.”
LGA chair Lord Porter acknowledged there were no firm plans for Brexit discussions with government but said he was not too concerned due to the way government was going about Brexit.
“Because they’re going for the Great Repeal Bill everything is going to be transposed into British law and then we’re going to take it out bit-by-bit,” he said. “I wanted to go through legislation and decide what was worth keeping, what was worth sending down to local [government], and what was worth binning altogether but that’s not the way they’re going about it.”
Facing questions from MPs in the House of Commons on 24 October, communities secretary Sajid Javid offered assurances that he would “make sure the voices of English local government are heard” in Brexit negotiations and added he was having “a very strong dialogue with the relevant ministers” to discuss the sector’s priorities.
Lord Porter also said the LGA’s different policy boards were regularly “drip-feeding” information to the DCLG. However, he admitted the sector was having to “work harder” to build a relationship with Mr Javid than his predecessor Greg Clark, with whom Lord Porter said he had a “strong personal bond”.
Lord Porter told LGC: “A big chunk of the influence we [the LGA] had was personal between me and Greg. I haven’t got the same personal relationship with Sajid as I did with Greg.”
The communities secretary is due to be questioned by the Commons’ communities and local government committee for the first time this afternoon. Since his appointment in July, there has been a perception in the sector that Mr Javid has not been as high profile or as approachable as his predecessor.
While Mr Javid and Mr Clark “operate in different styles” Lord Porter said “that doesn’t make one good or bad”.
He said: “It means the route through is more complicated than it used to be. With Greg I used to be able to call him up about 7.30 on a Sunday night if something had kicked off. With Sajid I can phone him but there’s no guarantee he’ll pick the phone up.”
It is “not unusual” to have to build relationships with new ministers, said Lord Porter who added he was “well confident” he would have “a really strong personal relationship” with Mr Javid should both of them stay in their respective roles long enough.
Mr Javid and his ministerial team still meet with the Conservative group on the LGA every Wednesday – an initiative instigated by former LGA Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell and former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles when the Conservatives were in opposition. A Department for Communities & Local Government spokesman confirmed that and added Mr Javid also meets councillors “several times a week”.
Lord Porter thought the former business secretary and his team were still getting used to dealing with the local government sector.
“They have got to deal with a lot more of us than when they were dealing with business. Local government is a different beast to the business community,” said Lord Porter.