What is the Council doing about Brexit?
Like most people you speak to, we would have expected that with not long to go until the UK exits the EU everyone would have known for some time on what terms that exit would be so that effective plans would have been made in an environment of some certainty. Sadly that is not the case. The £210k that the Government has given Bracknell Forest Council to cover the costs of the preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit is skant consolation.
Residents want to know what specific actions the Council has taken.
The starting point is that we are fully linked into national Local Government planning for Brexit. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has appointed nine regional Chief Executive links. Our own Chief Executive is receiving and feeding back information about pressures through this network on a structured weekly basis. He is also liaising with his counterpart in West Berkshire who represents the six Berkshire Authorities on the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum.
We do, of course, have a key risk log. Some of those risks are presented here.
In terms of workforce issues we have been in discussion with our key service providers. This includes SUEZ and Ringway (both of which happen to be French Companies) and all social care providers with whom we have 5 or more placements. It is not anticipated by any of these that there will be any significant implications for their workforces beyond the existing pressures. We are not complacent though as 13% of the workforce of our principal social care providers are non UK EU nationals – almost double the national average.
We have looked at data issues and taken advice because we do use a number of IT applications that are hosted in the EU. However, there is unlikely to be any immediate effect because of the degree of alignment between the UK and EU’s data protection regimes.
In terms of population issues Brexit could result in skill losses across the Borough if EU nationals decide not to remain. This is not something the Council can significantly influence. In the event of No Deal professionals with EU, EAA, EFTA and Swiss teaching qualifications will not be recognised as UK qualified teacher status. (This does not affect EU citizens who have already had their qualifications recognised). The Government intends to find an alternative recognition system but this has not yet been published. As a Council we can only wait and watch.
In terms of business and the economy, the Council is not currently involved in any funding bids that would be affected by Brexit
In terms of Council finances we will clearly be in the same position as all other Councils, in that national local government financial settlements may be impacted by Brexit depending upon the actual impact Brexit has on the economy. It is possible that there may be additional costs or tariffs on the items that BFC purchases such as health and social care equipment. At this stage we can do little until the outcome and indeed even the date of leaving the EU is known. However, the council’s budget for next year includes a £2.5m contingency – higher than we have had in the past in order hopefully to cope with unforeseen surprises.
In terms of supplies we are in contact through the Local Resilience Forum on the potential arrangements should food, fuel, medication and chemicals become in short supply. In terms of fuel our main focus would be on making sure we are able to undertake statutory duties including those associated with social care visits, waste collection and waste collection contractors to operate bin lorries. SUEZ plan to keep their fuel supplies high during March in preparation for the departure date. There is also a national fuel plan for Thames Valley which has allocated a number of specific fuelling stations for priority services.
A further potential risk relates to catering contractors for schools if they are not able to access ingredients for their regular menu. This could also have implications for children with special diets and for children on free school meals. We have been in discussion with the main school meal provider ISS who has developed an emergency menu which has more readily available local food.
In terms of voting, our focus is on the Borough on 2 May. Should Brexit not take place before the last date in which EU elections are due to take place we may need to make arrangements for such an election. However, it is more likely that the Government would extend the term of existing MEP’s so we are making no specific plans for this at present. The fact that we would normally have to deliver a full general election within a 3 – 4 week timescale from a standing start suggests this is risk that can be safely taken.
This update only gives a flavour of the detailed preparations that are being made. The council’s Executive, Corporate Management Team and the wider Senior Leadership Group are all actively looking at the implications of leaving without a deal.