No-deal Brexit could be 'catastrophic' for Suffolk's councils
PUBLISHED: 05:30 06 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:09 06 February 2019
Grave concerns are being raised about how prepared Suffolk is for Brexit with just a few weeks left on the clock.
Opposition leaders at Suffolk County Council have criticised the authority’s apparent lack of contingency plans for an EU exit – particularly if we leave with no deal on March 29.
Senior officers say they are actively preparing for “all scenarios” – but did not specify which ones.
A group to discuss Suffolk’s Brexit plans – reportedly called the ‘Local Resilience Forum’ – is also in its early stages.
However Caroline Page, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, warned that with just under two months to go there is little sign of the authority ever mentioning Brexit at all.
“From what I’ve heard so far it’s all empty gestures, there’s little reassurance and no sign of anything concrete,” she said.
“At a recent cabinet meeting a question was raised simply asking what the county council is doing about Brexit.
“And the answer was really disappointing and quite insulting – that they are ‘doing things behind the scenes’, and that we have to think about the positives – again, nothing concrete or of any substance.
She added: “In a few weeks’ time (when we leave the EU) there is an embarrassingly small chance that things are going to be exactly the same.
“To have a budget that fails to recognise that seems to be extraordinarily peculiar.”
Mrs Page is particularly concerned about how the council plans to tackle possible challenges in adult social care.
She pointed to potential issues posed by Brexit when recruiting and retaining future staff – given the percentage of EU workers in the sector. And she also raised fears about an increase in traffic around the Port of Felixstowe if a no-deal Brexit creates hold-ups sparked by extra checks – and whether the county’s highways are equipped to deal with this.
Deputy chief executive Chris Bally said Suffolk County Council is working with other public sector organisations to identify the specific implications of Brexit.
“As part of our usual business, working with partners and providers, we are planning for the possible implications of Brexit and have been working on this for some time,” he said.
“Public sector organisations in Suffolk – councils, the NHS, the police and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership – are working together on identifying the specific implications of the UK leaving the EU to ensure that Suffolk is well placed to maximise opportunities and minimise risks arising from Brexit.
“This collaboration ensures we do not duplicate organisational responses and we can share information to plan for scenarios.”
So-called ‘Brexit grants’ awarded to councils by central government were also announced last week, the authority said – Suffolk will get a £175,000 share, half in 2018/19 and the other in 2019/20.
“SCC and partners are exploring how best to maximise the additional funding,” Mr Bally added.
Despite this, Labour’s Jack Abbott warned a no-deal Brexit will be “catastrophic” for Suffolk’s county, district and borough councils – and the public services they provide.
He said: “The brutal reality is that we will not know the full ramifications of a no-deal Brexit until it happens, but there are steps that all councils and public bodies should be taking now to build as much resilience into their organisations as possible.
“Impacts of a no-deal Brexit on councils include a major reduction of EU staff running vital public services including home care, additional costs related to new tariffs on imports and a loss of local regeneration projects currently funded by the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF).
“The future of existing regulations regarding waste management, trading standards and environmental standards is also unclear under this scenario.
He added: “Clearly, if councils see their expenditure increase whilst their income streams decrease, cuts to public services will be both inevitable and immediate after March 29.
“A cocktail of further local government funding cuts mixed with a no-deal Brexit scenario will be catastrophic for our county, district and borough councils and for the public services they provide.
“It is absolutely critical that this cliff edge scenario is avoided at all costs.”