Amid the continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit, one thing is certain in local government: Brexit is costing councils money. NLGN’s latest Leadership Index found that over three quarters of councils have had to divert resources from key public service priorities to prepare for every eventuality in anticipation of Britain’s departure from the EU.
But what does this preparation look like, and what steps can local authorities reasonably take to cope with the risk of the unknown?
The cost of Brexit is undeniable. Alarmingly, our survey also reveals that as many as 75 per cent of upper tier councils with social care responsibilities have had to divert resources from key public service priorities to prepare for Brexit. Social care-providing councils have concerns about Brexit’s impact on a range of issues, from potential shortages of key medical supplies to retaining their EU27 national workforce. Despite the publication by the Government of guidelines on Brexit preparation for the health and social care sector, councils chiefs believe that there has not been enough attention given to the real impact of leaving, especially without a deal.
In response, upper-tier councils have focused efforts on preparing their key services for a range of possible outcomes. Long before the activation of Operation Yellowhammer by the Government, social care-providing councils had begun to make serious preparation for a no-deal scenario, for example, by planning with care providers and suppliers. Some respondents to our survey said they were working with the voluntary sector to raise awareness and provide assistance. And perhaps this has paid off: while over one third of social care-providing councils believe that Brexit uncertainty is having a negative effect on adult social care and children’s services, about three quarters of these councils are confident that their social care services are now prepared for Brexit.
Metropolitan and urban councils appear to be under additional pressure, with over 82 per cent of respondents reporting that they had had to divert resources (compared to only 56 per cent among county councils). In addition to contingency planning and various forms of risk assessments, they have had to focus their efforts on strengthening community cohesion, with particular attention on low-income and deprived communities. Elsewhere, some metropolitan and urban councils are stepping up campaigns to help EU27 national staff with their right-to-remain applications. Some have also spent money supporting new working arrangements to replace current employability programmes, which are part funded through EU grants.
Across local government the significant challenge of preparing for Brexit has incentivised councils to continue to reach out to neighbouring authorities and to work more closely with local agencies. Our survey reveals there has been a heightened emphasis on regional partnerships and information sharing, with councils’ engagement in their Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) intensifying. Additionally, some are forming new regional alliances, as well as taking part in district-wide joint working as part of their Brexit planning. Others have gone to the extent of “training officers to be able to assist other authorities” especially in service areas where demand is expected to rise sharply.
As the nature, impact and timing of Brexit remains unclear, there are two certainties. One - the UK’s exit from the EU is already costing local economies and key services dearly. And two - looking outwards – to other councils, businesses, voluntary organisations and community members – may be the best, and only, way to cushion the blow.
Pawda Tjoa is senior researcher for the New Local Government Network