There remains a risk that without continued evidence and ideas from the LGA, partners and councils, the centralisation of powers in Whitehall post-Brexit will occur without challenge, so do share your work in this area
Meeting our members
It has been a busy week listening to Councillors and supporting Members at regional and other events in London, Exeter, Truro and the Scilly Isles. As always I have been struck by our members’ commitment to and passion for their local areas.
The fifth cohort of Next Generation Training took place over the weekend and gelled into an excellent team; challenging, supportive and fun. There are two more weekends to go before the next annual opportunity to apply, so please let us know if you would like to gain from that free training next time.
Next May is a really big election year with the majority of our members in England up for election. For others it is part of their four year plan, working determinedly towards their target seats. Our recent Information and Development training this week was on election readiness with the professionals, The Campaign Company, coming in to talk with us about different engagement methods. The materials are available on request from the office.
The LGA recently responded to the Cabinet Office consultation on new electoral law designed to tackle the intimidation of local candidates.
You will probably remember I previously offered that if you have a group of twelve councillors or prospective councillors wanting to find out more about standing for election, we will support you to hold a Be a Councillor event, by providing a speaker, room and refreshments. Do contact the office if you are planning to hold an event.
Europe and Brexit
This month Cllr Gillian Ford proposed changes in the EU on ‘Building a Stronger Europe: the role of youth, education and culture policies’, which were unanimously accepted by the Committee of the Regions, representing local government of the EU countries.
There’s clearly a lot of work underway at the LGA linked to Brexit and what it means for local government.
Since the referendum of June 2016, colleagues and I have been working hard on a committee with our councils in England and with the associations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, to ensure local government is a key consideration in Brexit negotiations. Our Independent Group has taken a lead in calling for money and powers to be brought from Europe to our Councils where it is needed, and not held up in Whitehall or Cardiff. We have based our calls for what to keep and what to change on the points you raised at our AGM and other meetings over the past two years. We are still working in an extremely fluid political environment. But here is an update;
As you know, the nature of the deal with the EU is still to be defined, with a special European summit being called in November to see if a deal can be agreed. Although still seeking a deal, the Government is also working proactively to prepare for a “no deal” scenario. Should a deal be agreed with the EU in November, it will still require a “meaningful vote” in Parliament.
Within this uncertain context, here are the opportunities and risks that we have identified and discussed with Government, where assurance has either been given and where we are still actively seeking clarity.
Longer term opportunities and risks
It was clear from immediately after the referendum that the onus was on the LGA and councils to illustrate a way forward which strengthened local communities.
Through press work, conference events, publications and formal meetings with Government, we have established ideas for a debate about England post-Brexit, as the Assembly and WLGA have done for Wales. In many areas, our Members and Officers have set out tangible work plans and timelines for Government.
Big issues we have raised with officials include:
- Devolution to English communities: the opportunities of devolving powers post-Brexit to communities through local government and ensuring that Brexit does not result in a concentration of power in Whitehall
- The English Question: the need to address the issue of devolution in England, as the current UK constitutional settlement only covers Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont.
- A major review of EU legal powers to support local service delivery (for example, procurement and food hygiene).
- Taking the opportunity to create a better local regeneration funding stream to succeed EU Structural Funds.
- Ensuring that any “Brexit dividend” extends beyond the NHS to local services such as social care.
- Utilising local government expertise in economic development to support future trade
LGA Boards have also been scoping out the opportunities and addressing the risks. For example:
- The People and Places Board has established the Post Brexit England Commission to examine the devolved powers needed to help non-metropolitan authorities thrive.
- The City Regions Board is developing work to bring together a number of representative urban organisations to promote a future urban devolution agenda.
- The Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board is working with DEFRA on its post-Brexit policies, including a future waste policy, where I have been contributing as a spokesperson for all local government in Europe.
- Our work has ensured that we are prepared to promote new powers and responsibilities reaching local communities.
There remains a risk that without continued evidence and ideas from the LGA, partners and councils, the centralisation of powers in Whitehall post-Brexit will occur without challenge, so do share your work in this area.
No Deal Scenario
Whilst it has stated that “no deal” is not a preferred option, the Government is publishing a series of technical papers which help prepare citizens and businesses for leaving the EU with no deal.
Councils are expected to make local plans for “no deal” as a result of its technical papers, so please check what your Council is doing. Some of the papers (such as changes to procurement rules) have direct impact on councils.
The LGA has provided a detailed breakdown for all councils of the formal advice from Government to date and, importantly, has set out the expectations in other areas such as emergency planning. This should help councils prepare where advice is available.
The ‘No Deal’ technical papers do raise more general issues about councils’ preparedness – requiring action by authorities either by March 2019 under a no deal scenario, or later if there is a deal with a transition period.
The biggest unknown is, of course, the detail of any deal which could be agreed between the UK and the EU. The technical detail will impact on council services, possibly from April 2019.
Our Group and the LGA will continue to monitor developments, analyse the impact on councils and provide briefings for our members as much as we can. The LGA’s website also provides some detail on our Brexit work.
A huge thank you to all Members of our Group working alongside me to make sure the local government voice is heard loud and clear in Westminster as negotiations continue.
Dates for your diary
30 October – Regional meeting for members in the South East, Home Counties and London, 12pm – 4pm, 18 Smith Square, London
2 November – North West Regional Meeting, Morecambe, 10.30am-2pm
6 November – Wales Regional Meeting, Carmarthenshire, 1pm-5pm
7 November – East Midlands Regional Meeting, North Kesteven Council Chamber, 5pm – 8pm
10 November – Be a Councillor Event, LGA London, 11.30am – 1pm
16 November – West Midlands Regional Meeting, Hereford
23 November – Annual Independent Group conference, 18 Smith Square, London
14 December – Information and Development Seminar on Budget Setting, 11am – 1pm, 18 Smith Square, London
Councillor Marianne Overton MBE
Leader of the Independent Group
Vice Chair of the Local Government Association