How local authorities are planning for Brexit

by Ian Mean, Gloucestershire director for Business West & Board Member for GFirst LEP championing SMEs
Ian Mean

Full marks to Stroud District Council for telling us that the government have a lot of plans up their sleeve for councils to deal with the local challenges posed by Brexit – deal or no deal.

I have to say I had not realised that Whitehall were actively talking to councils about what might be construed as quite serious resilience problems.

Stroud’s impressive new chief executive, Kathy O’Leary told us that councils in the region gathered together in Birmingham before Christmas to tell them about possible issues.

Don’t Panic!

And at the heart of the government message there seemed to be Dad’s Army type of focus – essentially, don’t panic.

That’s all well and good. But the government simply must realise that it has to communicate to local people.

This isn’t a secret society. We may be totally lost in the plethora of Brexit political bunfighting but everyone has the right to know what is going on and planned – apart from, anything that could obviously be top secret, of course.

Communication is the key.

That is something that has been sadly lacking in terms of giving clarity to business throughout the whole Brexit process.

Nothing has changed in that respect since the start of the process.

Local businesses are still very much in the dark.

“Get your plans out in the open”

And now we have a situation where councils are working on plans with their local resilience teams that we know nothing at all about with only weeks until we are due to exit the EU.

I am not being alarmist here but surely government must soon give us all a lot more information about exactly what is planned locally to sustain communities in the aftermath of Brexit.

We now know, of course, that the so-called meaningful vote is due in the Commons next Tuesday.

And the Sunday papers give us the impression that there is a national government campaign due to start soon to allegedly tell us non-politicos what plans they have to prevent issues getting out of control.

One of those important issues is the availability of vital medecines like insulin. I am a Type One diabetic and rely on insulin, and a councillor at a Brexit breakfast I attended talked about the urgency of the situation as it would affect her family.

I made the point that Stroud District Council, having had the foresight to have this breakfast Brexit meeting with David Drew, their MP, should now ensure that all the Gloucestershire councils did similar.

County Councils need to lead from the front

Leadership Gloucestershire is made up of all the leaders and chief executives of the district councils. It does not apparently meet until March.

I think they need to meet quickly to ensure that all the district councils have a clear lead from the county council so that our communities throughout the county have one story to guide them and allay any fears they may have.

That should not be a problem. We simply must have clarity so that the secret work being carried out by local council resilience forums is not kept hidden away until the last minute.

I echo the words of Nigel Costley, regional secretary of the South West Trades Union Congress, who says: ”I realise that work has to be done at every level, by sector, theme and geography but I fear for the consequences if the practical contingency plans are done by secret local resilience forums.”

I applaud Stroud District Council and David Drew, MP for having the guts to be upfront about what they know – although not very much – about community planning by the government.

They have decided to hold more meetings like this, and there needs to be a far bigger presence of businesses themselves attending.

Brexit is a total confusion. At least in Stroud District, we have a council prepared to go as far as it can to give us the heads-up on local plans.

All our councils must now join them to give our communities as much clarity as possible.

And the government needs to ensure it gets its act together to ensure our councils in Gloucestershire are able to tell us the facts we need to know.

This is not a political game for our communities.