Government not supporting councils to prepare for Brexit

A committee of MPs has called on the government to take urgent action to enable local authorities to prepare for the consequences of Brexit.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published a new report outlining urgent priorities to improve information sharing and Brexit preparations at a local level. The report highlights key policy actions that the government needs to take in the long term to tackle the loss of EU funding streams and the repatriation of policy and legislation currently held by the EU, and to seize the opportunity Brexit presents to re-evaluate how funding and powers can be devolved to local government in order to create the best outcomes for communities.

The recommendations, split between those deemed worthy of urgent action and those necessary after Brexit, include maintaining existing mechanisms for information-sharing with local government during and immediately after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, addressing workforce shortages in the short term, ensuring EU nationals working in the UK are made aware of and encouraged to apply for settled status and determining new burdens on local authorities resulting from the immediate aftermath of Brexit, including in the no-deal scenario, and ensure central government funding provision is provided to ensure all new burdens are funded in full.

Post-Brexit, the report says that the government must urgently advance its plans for the establishment of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and urgently make clear its plans for the further  devolution of powers to local authorities post-Brexit, and publish its proposed new Devolution Framework within one month of the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said: “Whatever form of Brexit is finally decided upon, local authorities will play a key role in ensuring as little disruption as possible to people’s day-to-day lives. Yet the government is not giving them sufficient support to do this, nor is it adequately seeking their input to identify problems and inform their planning. The government must recognise these issues, provide reassurance and support, to enable vital services to be maintained to the level expected.

“The government must provide adequate financial support and technical guidance to respond to emerging challenges. It is also absolutely imperative that the government now brings forward its plans for replacing the EU funding that some of the poorest communities across the country currently rely on. In this report, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has set out ten recommendations to support local government to cope with the challenges of Brexit in the short term, and make the most of the opportunities it may provide in the future. If they want to ensure that local authorities face the challenges and seize the opportunities of Brexit they cannot keep leaving them in the dark.”

Kevin Bentley, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Brexit Taskforce, said: “Councils are taking a lead on preparations for Brexit and are as prepared as they can be for Brexit given the uncertainty surrounding the process. There remain resource, information and advice gaps that councils are facing while helping their communities prepare. While it is important to stress that business and communities are being well supported by councils as the nation prepares to leave the EU, the LGA continues to identify the issues which need to be addressed at a national level to ensure more effective local work.

“In the longer term, Brexit cannot result in swapping Brussels for Whitehall. Devolving powers to local communities through local government must be on the agenda and we will be pressing hard for this post-Brexit. Councils know their area best and it is important that the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund gives local areas more power and control over how funding is allocated and spent.”

Philip Atkins, County Councils Network vice-chairman and leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: “Despite the focus on London and the major cities, residents and workers in county areas are likely to be affected the most by Brexit. County areas received £4.1 billion from the last tranche of EU Structural Funds, five times the amount the capital received - a recognition of their economic challenges and rurality.

“It is imperative that these funds are adequately replaced. We support the committee’s calls that the new Shared Prosperity Fund matches or exceeds the present levels of funding and that government consults on the new arrangements as soon as possible. It is imperative this funding is channelled through elected and accountable local politicians who know their economies intimately, not Local Enterprise Partnerships. The Brexit vote can be explained in part due to a feeling of disenfranchisement from the perceived remoteness of Westminster from communities across England. Devolving this funding down to the local authorities that know their communities best would send a positive message to those areas that their voice is being heard.”

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