Councils are ready to do their best with Brexit

By Heather Jameson | 06 February 2019
  • Heather Jameson

The Government, it seems, is concerned that local authorities are not doing enough to prepare for Brexit.

In a breathtakingly brazen attempt to get the blame in early, civil servants have raised concerns about how councils will handle Brexit – despite the fact central Government still hasn’t managed to pull together a plan to get past Parliament. It begs the question: what exactly is local government preparing for?

Only last month – more than two years after the public voted to leave the European Union in the referendum – MHCLG asked nine council chiefs to co-ordinate Brexit plans for their respective regions.

Until now, there has been no funding for council Brexit plans. Now it is here, it’s too little to make a significant difference and too late for proper planning.

Contrast this to the estimated 4,000 civil servants in London, working on the Government’s plans and it is unsurprising if councils are a bit behind the curve.

For some Government departments Brexit issues are clear, if somewhat complicated. But for local government there is an array of possible scenarios to plan for.

Contingency care staff; standby services; back-up food banks; protecting ports; civil unrest – the list of plans drawn up for the worst-case scenario is endless. Only last week, James Brokenshire wrote to councils with a checklist – just two months before Brexit day. The question is, did the Government not know what was needed from local government until now or did they just not want to write it down?

Now the missives from the ministry are coming thick and fast – with little co-ordination and even less coherent communication.

In reality, local government is, mostly, at its best in an emergency. In the event of soaring food prices and civil unrest, the sector will, I have no doubt, rise to the occasion. Pitching in to protect people and places and pulling together communities is what councils do.

Calling on councils at the 11th hour is one thing and fearing they will fail is another – but let’s not play pass the buck until something has actually gone wrong.

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