The UK replacement for EU funding for local growth must by driven by councils.
The trade deal struck with the EU at the end of 2020 has provided some certainty for councils, albeit a number of issues have still to be tackled following the end of the transition period on 31 December.
From 1 January, the deal immediately allowed continued tariff-free trade with the EU and repatriation of public policy – everything from environmental, waste, and climate rules, though to public procurement and state aid.
The new trading arrangements have begun at a time when councils face multiple pressures over the winter months and arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its work with government, the LGA’s all-party EU Exit Taskforce has continually stated that councils’ capacity to undertake additional new work during this unprecedented period is severely limited.
While there is tariff-free trade, EU exit does mean some new paperwork and controls at ports, placing new responsibilities on councils’ regulatory services staff, especially at ports of entry – many of whom are also playing key roles in tackling COVID-19 and protecting our communities.
These members of staff are at the frontline of our work on the pandemic and they also continue to deliver important statutory services such as food hygiene and trading standards.
They also need to further prepare for the physical checks of goods at ports that will be introduced in April and July, and to help businesses with new export certificates.
There are already skills shortages in these professions and councils are reporting severe difficulties in recruiting new staff.
In order to address some of the skill shortages in the longer term, the LGA has worked closely with government to set up the Environmental Health Together initiative (see www.local.gov.uk/EHTogether-candidate-information-pack). This provides a mechanism for councils to recruit qualified environmental health staff.
The LGA’s EU Exit Taskforce is also pursuing with ministers some of the longer-term issues and opportunities resulting from leaving the EU; the key one being the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which will replace EU funding for local growth.
The Government will be launching pilot initiatives for 2021/22 with a budget of £220 million, and then will introduce the UKSPF nationally the following year.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP has indicated local councils will be placed at the heart of the delivery of the UKSPF, something we have long been calling for.
Councils are best placed to bring together different organisations to help create jobs, support small and medium enterprises, deliver skills training, and invest in critical local infrastructure.
We look forward to working with the government to ensure the UKSPF is delivered on time and fully replaces previous European funding.
We have also proposed an LGA member-led taskforce to help co-design the fund with ministers.
The EU Exit Taskforce continues to raise other EU exit issues on your behalf. These range from the implications of the UK’s immigration policy for the social care workforce, to ensuring councils have a say in the design of new laws affecting them as previously ensured via the EU Committee of the Regions.
We are also contributing to the design of new public policies, including procurement and state aid, which are being developed following the end of transition.
The LGA will continue to monitor closely how local areas adapt to the trade agreement and the new relationship with the EU.
If you have any comments or concerns about the immediate impact of this new relationship, or if you would like to share any good practice, please get in touch via EUtransition@local.gov.uk.