As our work continues to get the best outcomes for our sector from Brexit, and despite the uncertainty and gaps in information, communities and councils have all been working very hard to prepare as best we can for many different possibilities.
In addition to our longer-term agenda on EU funding, workforce issues, and shaping post-Brexit Britain, our immediate focus has been on ‘no deal’, as the Government has ramped up its own no-deal preparations. However, much of this work will also be relevant in the case of an agreed deal.
A key issue has been around information. We have been successful with our urging that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) launch a resource hub pulling together all the guidance and communications for local government (see www.gov.uk/guidance/local-government-brexit-preparedness). This sits alongside a broader Government hub for citizens and organisations.
The LGA has also been updating its own resources and information for councils (see www.local.gov.uk/brexit), and we have highlighted some recent developments and issues around the longer-term agenda for post-Brexit local government below.
In late January, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire MP announced Brexit funding for local government. His ministerial statement outlined details of the £56.5 million that has been made available for council preparations, including £20 million for this financial year (see https://bit.ly/2CTuT2q).
This is an important example of how government has listened to the needs of councils. Addressing our calls for some of the funding to be available this year shows the commitment that the Secretary of State has towards local government and the important role we play. Additionally, the Government has confirmed that any additional responsibilities resulting in new financial pressures for councils arising from Brexit will be funded. Council chief executives will have received a letter from MHCLG with further details of the funding arrangements and expectations.
EU settlement scheme
The EU settlement scheme is the mechanism by which non-UK EU citizens register with the Home Office to remain living in the UK after the end of the withdrawal transition period. The scheme has undergone several pilots and is now going through a public pilot phase.
Information has been sent to directors of children’s services as councils will have responsibility over completing applications for looked-after children. The LGA is working with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Home Office to push for clear communications to councils about their responsibilities for vulnerable adults.
Following LGA lobbying, the UK Government announced its aim to protect citizens’ rights in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Some of the detail about how that will happen is now available, at www.gov.uk/guidance/european-temporary-leave-to-remain-in-the-uk, and the Home Office has published a toolkit of materials for councils and community leaders on EU Settled Status (see www.gov.uk/government/publications/eu-settlement-scheme-community-leaders-toolkit). These resources are designed to help you raise awareness of the scheme with residents and community groups, who may approach their local authority for information.
The Government has published an array of Brexit-related guidance for councils and other public bodies and organisations, on everything from data protection to teacher qualifications, social care to food labelling, and local resilience to citizens’ rights.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published a consolidated list of guidance for local government at www.gov.uk/guidance/local-government-brexit-preparedness, and will be updating it regularly.
It has also established a network of nine local authority chief executives from across England. This group will engage with councils in their regions to share information on their Brexit preparations and also feed back relevant national policy that could have implications for local services, businesses and residents.
You can find out who your region’s representative is at www.gov.uk/government/news/mhclg-eu-exit-local-information-sharing. You can also email the ministry via email@example.com with any feedback on its guidance website, or with comments and suggestions.
Councillors and candidates
After pressing for guidance from Government on behalf of councils, ministers confirmed late last year that EU citizens would be eligible to stand and vote in this year’s local elections. Candidates who are validly nominated and elected on or before 2 May 2019 in England and Northern Ireland should be able to serve that term of office in full.
We continue to work with government on what will happen after May 2019 in respect of elections eligibility. We are also raising the need for clear guidance on the European 2019 elections, should there be a delay to Brexit resulting from an extension to Article 50.
At the LGA’s annual conference last year, we set out our vision of what post-Brexit Britain could look like, and some of the opportunities and risks for local government to address, in our report, ‘Brexit: moving the conversation on’ (see www.local.gov.uk/moving-the-conversation-on/brexit).
Brexit offers the opportunity for devolution and a fundamental change to how decisions are made in Britain. Local government also has a lot to contribute to securing ambitious future trading relationships and deals that benefit local communities.
We continue to engage with Parliament to make the case for local government’s role in post-Brexit decision-making, including trade. As part of my role as Chairman of the LGA’s Brexit Taskforce, I appeared before the Commons International Trade Committee alongside Cllr Philip Atkins OBE, Leader of Staffordshire County Council.
I explained to MPs that the Government must continue to consult the LGA, Welsh LGA, Northern Ireland LGA and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities once we leave the EU, and that local government’s role in the UK’s future trade negotiations should be formalised.
The Select Committee’s report, published late last year, was very positive about the role that councils could play and the proactive contribution we could make to the UK’s international trade policy. It suggested a key role for councils on the Strategic Trade Advisory Group, argued that local government should have a voice in all aspects of the trade policy process and that the Government, in its response to this report, should set out how it plans to facilitate this.
Meanwhile, the Government has secured the UK’s participation in EU funding programmes (the European Structural and Investment Funds, ESIF) until 2020, something the LGA had called for. It has also committed to a domestic fund – the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) – post 2020. We have said this should be a localised, place-based fund at least equal in quantum to ESIF. We continue to raise concerns with government about delays in the consultation on the UK SPF and the impact this will have on councils’ ability to plan.
We have secured guarantees from government for EU-funded projects to the end of 2020 in the case of no deal, but there is still further detail to emerge about how this will operate. We will continue to use our position on the Government’s Growth Programme Board for ESIF to obtain more details.