Whilst the impact of Brexit on the financial markets and what it means for the energy, pharmaceutical, technology, manufacturing and even the charitable sectors has been widely discussed, the impact it may have on the Local Government agenda is less clear. Whilst Central Government and Whitehall have been consumed by the political and economic fallout following this historic vote, leaders in town halls across the Country anxiously await how a post-Brexit deal will impact on the local communities they need to represent and continue to serve.
The result has reignited the devolution debate and has sparked new demand for more regional autonomy, just as Scotland’s close-call referendum brought about the current round of devolution deals. Interestingly, the proposed combined authority areas of the West Midlands, Tees Valley and the North Midlands backed Brexit, reinforcing the commentary that a Leave vote in these areas encapsulated a feeling that Central Government is out-of-touch with the needs of those local communities. Conversely, one might say that the arguments against Brexit were not made, poorly made or got lost in translation. Re-connection between Central and Local Government has to be an early action.
Brexit will provide a number of challenges to local authority leaders which will undoubtedly affect the provision of local services, and the uncertainty surrounding the entitlement to agreed European Structural and Investment Funds is already impacting on many local development ambitions. However, Brexit may also bring about opportunities for Local Government to take ownership of some EU level decision-making especially in the areas of health and safety, consumer standards and environmental and energy policy. There are some pressing issues, however, which won’t and can’t wait for Brexit. Delivering a sustainable, affordable and appropriate Health & Social Care system is front of mind for most authorities as is safeguarding some of the most vulnerable in the community. Similarly, the pressure on social housing and the demand for decent places to live is not predicated on Article 50 being enacted, or not, or delayed.
Just as local authority leaders have been rigorously negotiating with the Treasury over recent months about further devolution of funding and powers, it is vital that Local Government continues to be represented at the highest level during Brexit talks to ensure that devolution stays on the agenda and that the more pressing needs and interests of local communities continue to be put forward.
Jonathan Clark is the Managing Partner of the Public Sector Practice. He specialises he specialises in senior leadership appointments across Central and Local Government, Special Purpose Delivery Vehicles and joint venture companies.