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Kevin Bentley: Brexit can be positive

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Much of the debate on Brexit’s likely impact on local government has rightly focused on EU funding.

But there are many other areas in which the UK’s departure from Europe is likely to affect councils.

Sometimes the effect is likely to be positive. Just the other week, my Local Government Association colleague Izzi Seccombe (Con) highlighted the opportunity to improve current food labelling legislation.

By making traffic light-style labelling on food and drink mandatory after Brexit – it is currently voluntary in the UK – we could help people make more informed choices about the food they eat and hopefully lead healthier lives.

Clearly at a time when two-thirds of adults and more than a fifth of four and five-year-olds are obese or overweight, this could help tackle the obesity crisis we face as a nation, and is certainly a positive opportunity post-Brexit.

But for every positive change we could make, there are laws and regulations we absolutely have to keep. That is why the LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has drawn up a list of areas that affect local government.

In some we think there is the potential for strengthening post-Brexit. In others, there are things we absolutely cannot lose when we leave.

Top of that list is what the UK prosperity fund will look like when it replaces EU regeneration funding in 2020. This is an issue I have previously discussed in LGC.

Beyond that there are a whole host of important areas that the government must address in the Brexit negotiations, such as what will replace the Committee of the Regions; how we will maintain air quality standards regulations introduced in 2010; and how we simplify the procurement rules that currently govern much of the work local authorities undertake.

Good air quality is vital for our health and quality of life as well for as the environment. Air pollution is linked to 40,000 early deaths in the UK each year so it is imperative the UK target is at least as ambitious as those in the EU.

Meanwhile, changing rules around procurement would see cuts to red tape, freeing up time and money for councils to invest in their local communities. It would also induce more small and medium-sized enterprises to bid for funding, when many are currently put off by the complexity of the process.

Changes to state aid rules would also unlock greater investment into the community. Currently, even very small amounts of aid grants require significant administrative burdens that deter investment. The LGA would like to see the threshold for small aid grants increased, helping small businesses, charities and voluntary groups access increased investment.

These examples of the likely impact of Brexit are by no means exhaustive – we would need many many more articles for that. What they do provide is an illustration of the opportunities, as well as the potential costs, of leaving the EU to local government and the communities we represent.

The LGA has used its position to lobby the government on all of this and more, and will continue to hold them to account during the Brexit negotiations to ensure that we secure the best deal for our local residents.

Kevin Bentley (Con), chairman, Local Government Association Brexit task and finish group

 

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