Brexit and local government – the story so far

(and we are in the end-game)

The Guardian– Monday 8 October (just as the crucial last few weeks of negotiations begins) – reports on the united effort of four metro mayors to grab the government’s attention:

"'Take back control', the Vote Leave rallying cry, was one of the most effective political slogans in recent times. And today it has been appropriated by four metro mayors from the North of England, three Labour and one Tory, who have united to demand that they get control of the regional funding promised by the government to replace EU structural funds after brexit.

The four mayors who want to 'take back control' are Labour’s Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester), Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City region) and Dan Jarvis (Sheffield City region) and the Conservative Ben Houchen (Tees Valley). In a joint statement released this morning they say:

'More than two years since the Brexit referendum, the defining mantra of that campaign – to take back control – looms large as we approach March 2019. If that phrase is to mean anything, it must mean substantial devolution of power and resources out of Westminster to the English regions. The UK’s employment rate has recently hit record highs and many of our city centres are thriving hubs of commerce and culture.

'But some places remain locked out of this success story. This underlines the need for areas to be given more control of the tools to unlock inclusive economic growth in their communities. Ministers have promised a consultation on the shared prosperity fund this year and this is becoming urgent if we are not to be left with a damaging gap between the ending of EU structural funds and the setting up of the shared prosperity fund – a gap which would lead to the closure of vital economic programmes and investments.'"

The Guardian writer’s comment on this is telling:

"To be honest, given all Theresa May’s other brexit worries, what happens to the SPF probably barely registers with her as an issue."

It is no doubt true that European regional funding is not at the top of the Prime Minister’s agenda – yet every city and region understands how critical the future of these funds are to communities across the UK. For local government this underplaying of their concerns by the government and largely ignoring of them by the mainstream media has been the story from the day brexit won the referendum.

Since the referendum the LGiU has, though, focused on a wide range of issues around brexit and provided a regular brexit update briefing: briefings on immigration, the future workforce, the potential impact on health and social care, European funding, the effects on regional and local growth. We have considered how Brexit could affect charities, tourism, equalities, and the environment. We have looked at views from Ireland and the rest of the EU and at how local government can continue to engage with the EU. We reported on analyses of the Brexit vote.

This article cannot possibly cover all the brexit issues of most relevance to local government – it focuses on four critical ones: how has local government been involved; European funding; the future public sector workforce; and devolution and subsidiarity.

How much has local government as a sector been influential in the Brexit debate?

Brexit has dominated parliament, and the other big issues for local government have to some extent struggled to maintain their place on the agenda – such as devolution or reforming social care (we are still waiting for the green paper).

This may have been of less concern if local government had been closely involved in the Brexit process but local government has never been at the centre of the Brexit debate. One of our first briefings (LGiU members) on Brexit outlined the key issues for sub national government – the shorter and longer-term economic outlook, uncertainty over European funding, devolution, community cohesion, health and social care and the workforce – these are not unsubstantial issues, yet the dialogue with the local government sector over them has been muted.

It seems I was more optimistic when I wrote that first update briefing in July 2016:

“The key issues for local government are complex and multi-faceted. Many will be outside of the sector’s direct control, but it is important for the sector to push itself forward and be involved in negotiations, and as we said above the early signs are that this is happening. Whether the new secretary of state will have the same view as the former one is not yet known, but it is unlikely that he would go back on the commitment to involve local government in the brexit negotiations.”

Looking back over a series of brexit updates the optimism gradually eroded. In August 2016 I commented: “It is, of course, early days to assess what the impact of the vote on brexit will mean to local authorities. Already, however, the sector is making its voice heard among many others doing the same.”

LocalGov ran a survey on how councils thought brexit would affect them and what needs to be done to minimise any adverse impact.

The majority of council staff (78 per cent) believed that more powers should be devolved to local authorities rather than transferred to Whitehall in the wake of Brexit. More control over housing was the most type of power wanted by respondents, followed by more power over business rates and property and land.

In October 2016 I noted: “the big challenge is continuing uncertainty – about the EU workforce, about European funding after the guarantees to replace it run out, about how the economy could affect local budgets.”

And: “It is not surprising that the voice of local government is not yet being strongly heard in the fierce discussions, debates and tensions following the Brexit vote. Yet it is, of course, local government that will be the most affected (with business and higher education) of any sector, group or organisation. It was noticeable at the party conferences that the role of local government in meeting some of the huge challenges arising from Brexit was not really acknowledged on the main conference platforms.”

The update in April 2017 focused on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill (now an Act). “Given the potentially major impact on local government it must be a priority of the sector to ensure there is maximum scrutiny in parliament of the bill, and that the voice of local government needs to be heard as part of that scrutiny. The implications for so much of what councils do are immense –regulatory framework, procurement rules, environmental protection, employment rights – the list is very long. The LGA has stressed that local government must play a central role in deciding whether to keep, amend or scrap EU laws once they are converted into domestic law.”

The other related issue was how far local government can benefit from the repatriation of EU laws. So far this issue had been dominated (unsurprisingly) by Scotland and the other devolved administrations “but it is crucial for local government as well.”

These seemed to still be the key questions in July 2017: will local government’s voice be heard in the brexit negotiations and during the passage of the Bill? Speaking at the Public Sector Show in London, the director of the County Councils Network (CCN) Simon Edwards sharply criticised the government’s handling of Brexit, saying that more work was needed to open a dialogue with councils about getting the best deal for local regions when the UK leaves the EU.

“A year ago, ministers promised local government a seat at the table, and the LGA was bringing politicians and officers together from across the country to engage together on Brexit, but it’s fair to say that after a year its very obvious that there’s no seat, there’s no table, and there’s probably not even a single room or group of people for local government and the public sector to engage in over Brexit.”

Simon Edwards, CCN

But in his speech, he also highlighted that councils should not be despondent about this issue, but instead to push Whitehall towards change: “I’ve had discussions with ministers and senior civil servants and they have said that if we make noises and get our act together they may have to take notice of our views,” Edwards said. “We have an uphill battle to make sure those issues that need to be raised, are raised.”

The HCLG committee had begun its inquiry into brexit and local government by March 2018. The sector had continually demanded a voice at the table – has it got one? Jessie Hamshar’s, (Service Director, Cornwall County Council) answer when giving oral evidence at the inquiry seems to be the view of the sector as a whole:

“Local government was promised a seat at the table. It is not clear even where the table is, never mind what the seat is. If you look at the five committees that have been set up, even at a ministerial level the DCLG Secretary of State is represented at only one of them, and it is the committee that is looking at the day-to-day issues that arise. It is not one of the negotiating table committees.”

By September 2018 so much remains uncertain or unknown. Which, of course, makes it very difficult for councils to carry out risk assessments. I commented that there is little sign so far of the UK government understanding the links between devolution, brexit and the need for sustainable funding for local government. Which is why it is even more important local and regional government in the UK strongly articulates the synergies between them – in the run up to the end of the negotiations and indeed to the October budget.

The LGA had this to say : “The reality of the negotiations has meant that we have had to proactively create our own platforms to ensure councils’ influence. In partnership with the local government associations of Wales (WLGA), Scotland (COSLA) and Northern Ireland (NILGA), we have worked as a unique alliance of local communities across the UK and held regular meetings with the Department for Exiting the EU (DEXEU) and other ministries. The Government must redouble its efforts to work with local areas and engage with the expertise of local government to ensure that Whitehall gets these crucial negotiations right for local communities.”

Written evidence to the HCLG inquiry underlines the dissatisfaction felt by local government in its involvement in the brexit process.

“Cumbria County Council has not had any direct representation in Brexit negotiations to date. Whilst the previous Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has met with the Combined Authority Mayors (including Andy Burnham, Steve Rotherham and Ben Houchen), there has been no route for non-Combined Authority areas to engage. This means that in general, the major urban areas have had the opportunity for limited engagement but no opportunity has been made available for county areas such as Cumbria to engage directly with the Government on Brexit-related issues.”

Going back to the question at the start of this section the answer must be that local government has not been that influential in the Brexit debate – because it looks like the sector has largely been sidelined.

Key issues:

what is clear and what is not clear?

European Funding

Brexit: What about the structural funds?, a LGiU briefing (LGiU members only), examined the history of the structural funds, the policy objectives they are meant to achieve, and the level of funding the UK receives.

For 2014-20, the UK was allocated €10.8bn, of which England gets €6.9bn, Wales gets €2.4bn), Scotland gets €0.9bn and Northern Ireland gets €0.5 bn. This is clearly a considerable amount of money supporting regeneration in local areas, employment and skills.

So what do we know about how this funding could be replaced post Brexit?

The government announced in August 2016 that it would underwrite the payment of awards for UK applicants for successful bids to EU funding, including significant programmes like Erasmus+. Erasmus is as an example of a very important fund: in August 2018 the government published a Technical Notice on UK participation in the Erasmus+ programme in a ‘no deal’ scenario, as part of its information to businesses and citizens about ‘no deal’ preparations.

The preparations (though the government says a no deal scenario is highly unlikely) include trying to discuss and agree with the Commission that UK organisations would be able to continue to participate in projects in a ‘no deal’ scenario, as described in the Commission’s disclaimer text accompanying the Call for Proposals published in October 2017.

It isn’t yet clear, however, whether the UK could continue to participate in some of the programmes after Brexit. Taking Erasmus+ again the UK “is open to exploring participation in the successor scheme” and has proposed a new UK-EU culture and education accord that ‘provides for UK participation in EU programmes’ (see our briefing on the background to Erasmus – LGiU members).

And there is still uncertainly about how the funds will be replaced by the proposed local successor fund – the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). Details of the operation and priorities of the fund won’t be known until after the next Spending Review.

What next?

The timescale for a successor scheme is short if contracts to deliver UKSPF projects are to be ready by the beginning of 2021. The consultation on it hasn’t yet finished. Local areas need to be involved in the development of the new scheme so that the different needs of each area are fully taken into account. This is ambitious and so far local government remains unclear about the timetable or the process involved in designing and commissioning for the replacement scheme.

It is essential that funding does not just stop because there have been delays. What could be worse is if there is a no deal outcome to the negotiations – if that occurs then there would have to be gap funding in place next March for when the current funding ends in December 2020.

Local government as a sector has pressed for the continuation of local regeneration funding, but that doesn’t mean that the current EU funding process should be replicated. The LGA has stressed how the administration and implementation of the ESIF funding streams is ‘unnecessarily complex, bureaucratic and subject to a plethora of rules and eligibility conditions’. This leads to fragmentation and limits the ability of areas to take a joined up, strategic approach to growth and regeneration.

The LGA has called for the UKSPF to include domestic matched funding and that the arrangements to be made easier to access with “a simplified and more proportionate approach to financial management, to allow for shorter time frames for decision, authorisation and payment”.

The UKDSPF clearly has the potential to be more effective than the current arrangements – better targeted to combat inequalities between regions and within them, to foster inclusive growth, to provide sustainability over time (with, in this instance, replicating the timescales we have now perhaps), and to facilitate partnership working between sectors and with communities.

Will this happen? Only if the government involves local and regional government much more than it has done so far in its development. The jury is still out.

Key issues:

what is clear and what is not clear?

The future workforce

Brexit will have significant implications for the public sector workforce. Our briefing in July this year (LGiU members) set out the issues for the workforce generally. It looked at the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy’s (CIPFA) Brexit Advisory Commission for Public Services report (PDF document) on a Brexit deal on public sector workforce issues.

Social care has been one of the key areas where there are major concerns about the future workforce. Social care has been facing recruitment and retention problems for some time – given the nature of some of the work and the financial pressures on local authorities. The potential impact of Brexit is more challenging because of the problems that already exist.

The State of the Social Care Sector and Workforce in England 2018 sets out the current situation. Around 83 per cent of the adult social care workforce were British, eight per cent (104,000 jobs) had an EU nationality and 10 per cent (129,000 jobs) had a non EU nationality. Therefore, on average, the adult social care sector had a greater reliance on non-EU than EU workers. Nationality varies by region with the North having a higher proportion of British workers than the Midlands or the South. London had the lowest proportion of British workers (61 per cent). The proportion of the adult social care workforce with a British nationality has been consistent over the past six years (from 2012/13 to 2017/18), rising one percentage point over the period. There could be very differential impacts of Brexit on different parts of the UK. The proportion of EU (non-British) workers has risen three percentage points and non-EU workers has fallen three percentage points over the period.

The result of the EU referendum appears, so far, to have had little effect on these trends, with the number of EU nationals continuing to increase and the number of non-EU nationals decreasing.

According to the government’s ‘EU Settlement Scheme: statement of intent’, the rights of EU citizens living in the UK will not change until after 31st December 2020. After this point, EU citizens will have until June 2021 to hold or be in the process of applying for UK immigration status through the EU Settlement Scheme.

A recent report on future migration patterns by the independent Migration Advisory Committee did, however, express serious concerns about the future workforce. It warned record domestic levels of employment, increasing social care vacancy rates and rising demand due to an ageing population, meant the “sector could come under tremendous pressure if these positions cannot be filled” and that “these problems are likely to worsen”, with research showing a zero-net migration scenario could create a social care workforce gap of 1.1 million workers by 2037. A low migration scenario, could lead to a workforce gap of more than 750,000.

It also said a scheme aimed at making it easier to hire migrants into social care “would not necessarily make it easier to retain them in the sector” due to low wages and poor terms and conditions caused by the lack of a sustainable funding model. The report added: “We are seriously concerned about social care but this sector needs a policy wider than just migration policy to fix its many problems.” A no deal scenario could clearly make these challenges much more difficult to meet.

The CIPFA advisory commission’s report identifies some specific issues for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where large parts of public services are devolved. The Scottish Government estimates that migration is necessary to sustain the population of Scotland at its current level, in contrast to the UK population as a whole. A drop in EU working-age migration would therefore risk a reduction in tax revenue just as an overall ageing population increases demand for health and social care. EU-27 migrants are considered particularly important for maintaining public services in rural areas.

The Scottish and Welsh governments are pressing for different parts of the UK to be able to develop their own immigration policy in response to their challenges.

What next?

CIPFA’s Commission outlined a range of potential options and their implications for the public sector workforce depending on the results of the negotiations. These include temporary controls on free movement during periods of high EU inflows; free movement for particular categories of worker; a preferential system for EU nationals; work permit system for EU and non-EU nationals, with quotas for different occupations; or a bespoke deal including reciprocal free movement for skilled workers and sector-based quotas for lower-skilled jobs which cannot be filled by UK workers.

The general mood in the sector is not positive. The uncertainty about the final deal – and increasingly the possibility of a no deal – is particularly challenging. An article in Care Home Professional (16 October) gives the result from a CHP survey of care home leaders and staff which revealed deep fears over the impact of Brexit on the sector’s workforce. Almost 85 per cent of those surveyed said Brexit would have a significant impact on the social care workforce, with a further 41per cent saying their business had not done enough to recruit non-EU workers.

Respondents were also strongly critical of the government’s approach to Brexit, with two-thirds of people saying it had not done enough to provide access to non-EU workers.

Those polled also remain unconvinced about Government efforts to boost UK recruitment into the sector, with three-quarters of respondents saying its national recruitment campaign would fail to help fill the shortfall left by EU nationals.

Andy Hood, Partner in the Regulatory and Trade team at Fieldfisher solicitors, said: “I note from the results that the real problem is the lack of certainty about the outcome of negotiations and the lack of support from the Government to ensure the sector can be properly staffed after Brexit – either through a recruitment campaign or to provide access to workers from non-EU countries. Given the Government has said that it intends to offer EU nationals no special access to the UK job market post-Brexit these difficulties are only likely to be exacerbated in the future.”

The social care workforce is, of course, not the only area of concern. Councils will be thinking through the needs of the wider public sector in their area, but also the needs of the workforce in general. Local government has stressed that there may be significant skill shortages post Brexit – and that these will vary a lot in different areas. The LGA has done analysis of the construction sector, which is already facing skills shortages – and where Brexit could make the situation even worse. The Federation of Master Builders has highlighted that a third of SME housebuilders currently employ EU workers, rising to 70 per cent in London and the South East.

A no deal scenario will exacerbate the situation – with the employment rights for EU citizens at risk from withdrawal day.

Devolution and powers

The issues that have dominated the narrative around Brexit for local government have been those that directly affect how local government can deliver services post Brexit, such as social care, how regional development can be funded, and how local authorities’ role in regulation and standards can be maintained. But what could be seen as more esoteric questions have been there beneath the surface – around subsidiarity and devolution (although they are clearly practical questions too over exactly which powers will be repatriated from Brussels and to which institution – as we saw during the passage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill).

If subsidiarity is to mean anything then the powers that return to the UK should be passed to the level of government most appropriate for them and closest to citizens.

Will this happen?

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee (PACAC) in their report on devolution and exiting the EU had this to say:

“Whitehall has a tendency to hold on to power and that there is a continued institutional lack of understanding of devolution.”

How true that is – of all governments.

The report is mainly about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It stressed the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill “was the cause of considerable disagreement between the UK Government and devolved Governments. This disagreement was intensified by a lack of consultation on the Bill before it was published and introduced to the House of Commons”.

Our Brexit updates have charted some of the debate. The PACAC report noted that “many of the concerns expressed by devolved institutions in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill were addressed through amendments. Even so, the Bill eventually passed into law without the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament. This has raised questions about the Sewel Convention that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate in areas of devolved competence without consent of the devolved legislature. We note that while this convention has been entrenched in legislation, there have been no corresponding parliamentary procedures put in place to recognise the convention in the legislative process. The evidence to this inquiry also exposed considerable ambiguity and uncertainty around the interpretation and operation of the Sewel Convention.”

Though the focus was on the devolved administrations, the PACAC also commented on the position in England:

“Any discussion of devolution would be incomplete without serious consideration of the position of England within the constitutional architecture of the UK. We received evidence pointing to a significant asymmetry between the representation of the people of England within the Union when compared with the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We recommend that the Government sets out, as part of its statement of ‘Devolution Policy for the Union’, how the different parts of England are to be fairly and effectively represented. The current programme of English devolution to combined authorities and mayors should be expanded and greater powers devolved. In addition, plans should be drawn up for how devolution to more rural areas can effectively be pursued. The metropolitan mayors in England told us that they were struggling with a piecemeal delegation of powers and functions from central Government. We recommend that whole areas of competence be properly devolved to the English mayors so that their work in their local areas can be more effective.

“We heard evidence that Whitehall has a tendency to hold on to power…In individual departments, there have been some attempts to inform officials, but the structure and culture of Whitehall generally still takes little account of the realities of devolution in the UK. In line with the recognition that devolution is a fundamental feature of the UK constitutional architecture, there should be a systematic review of how Whitehall is structured, how it relates to devolved administrations as well as local and metropolitan administrations in England, and what areas could appropriately be devolved from Whitehall to other authorities within England. Officials should also receive comprehensive training on devolution.”

Local authorities and combined authorities and elected mayors have continually stressed the need for involvement in the Brexit process and the links between the devolution agenda, strengthening of powers and meeting some of the key resulting economic challenges of EU withdrawal. As Andy Burnham has argued devolution “offers the best hope of making Brexit work for the regions and uniting our uncertain nation”.

Municipal Journal reported on a recent speech where Burnham said the more the government extended the powers that Greater Manchester has to other places such as Cheshire and Yorkshire the “more we will be able to do for ourselves and open up a new positive chapter for our country…The danger for the country is that, as Westminster gets increasingly drawn into the detail of Brexit, progress on bread-and-butter issues such as transport, skills and housing will increasingly stall. But the paradox is that these are precisely the issues that we need to be making progress on if we are to mitigate the effects of Brexit in the regions.”

“The most immediate task for government should be to prioritise devolution deals for the remaining big cities in England yet to agree one, which would extend devolution to cover nearly half the population of England”.

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities

“The general question of transferring EU legislation into UK law raises three issues for us in local government: the impact that the risk of ambiguity in the transitional phase could have on us; the flexibility in how the legislation is transferred; and the capacity and resources to prepare.”

Helen Dickinson, Assistant Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council

The issues around subsidiarity and devolution are critical ones: who decides and what is the process for decisions to be made?

The Centre for Cities in their written evidence to the HCLG inquiry suggested that there is: “a unique and powerful opportunity for the UK Government to reinvigorate our democracy, particularly through increased devolution. Devolution is a process, not an outcome but it is an important factor in improving the performance of cities. For example, cities with greater local freedom also tend to be more competitive. European cities often tend to have greater freedoms and powers, so this leaves the UK’s cities in a vulnerable position as we approach Brexit. Ultimately, this means cities must have far greater local financial autonomy, including retaining more of the taxation raised within them, as happens to varying degrees across the EU, the USA and throughout the developed world. It’s time to think big about our global future, but that means also thinking big about our local future: the ‘local UK’ on which our international success depends. Greater devolution of power and resource to places and people across the UK is urgently required, and it is up to local and national governments to work out how to deliver it. At a time when people are demanding more control, this is too important an issue to be overlooked.”

Brexit can be seen as a threat to communities but also as providing opportunity. For example, the way structural funds are distributed now is hardly ideal. Why shouldn’t the decisions about any future regional funding be devolved? But even if the answer is they should be devolved the question is how. What role would there be for the new combined authorities and mayors and for those areas that haven’t got these new arrangements? How would a new system fit with reforms to local government finance? And how can devolution and decentralisation be strengthened when there will be a need for answers in a tight timescale and when the picture is fragmented and uncertain even without brexit?

Devolution and subsidiarity are not just abstract concepts of course.

Local government as a sector has close relationships with the EU – brexit doesn’t have to mean those relationships need to be broken.

As Core Cities underlined in their submission to the select committee inquiry those relationships transcend national boundaries:

“Global economies are interlinked flows of trade, commerce and people between cities, which in turn drive their national economies. Urban policy in the UK has so far failed to grasp this reality, with the result that, despite some good progress on devolution, we are totally out of step with the rest of the world, where increasingly power is held locally and not by central government.”

Anna Round, senior research fellow on the North East at the IPPR think-tank, spoke at an event in Newcastle on brexit and devolution, hosted by CIPFA and the Brexit Advisory Commission. She said that the regions’ capacity to deal with brexit could be made more difficult as decision making is centred around Whitehall.

“I think the capacity for regions to shape their future outside the EU is immensely important. There is a challenge there about how devolution will progress, how it is distributed meaningfully between Whitehall and regions. I think the current model of devolution is not going to do that, that needs to change.”

Round noted recent studies showed the “extraordinary” levels of economic disparity in the UK between London and the rest of the country. This was the most profound imbalance of this kind in the EU, she said. She stated this was historically made worse by the “huge political imbalance in a hugely centralised country”.

Round suggested looking again at the scale of the areas covered by devolution deals and moving to a more federalised system and that the devolution areas should be larger to give them more ‘clout’.

The local government associations had called for constitutional talks with the government to ensure three key principles underpin any new settlement:

  • establishing a principle of subsidiarity, which would ensure that power is transferred to the level of government closest to the people
  • securing and enhancing the legal position of local government – this would mean a defined set of powers and responsibilities which set out what local government should support at the local level so that public services can be designed around local need
  • providing greater fiscal autonomy for local government.

The principle of subsidiarity is, of course, particularly important when EU laws are repatriated.

There has been support for greater devolution of responsibilities post brexit from some MPs and Peers. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, for example, published a report recently that said that the government should consider devolving responsibility for immigration policy to the UK’s regions and new metropolitan areas to boost integration and economic productivity. The current immigration policy would need to be reformed from the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ immigration system with a view to actively shaping immigrant settlement patterns within the UK. Population flows could be directed to areas of the country that require higher levels of immigration or do not currently attract a great many immigrants. This might to ease the strain on public services and community relations while bolstering regional economies.

Finally...

Brexit is still the dominant narrative in UK politics. And it is for local government too – at least it is always there, along with dealing with the challenges of austerity.

I am writing this on 16 October and it is still not clear how the negotiations between the EU and the UK will end up. But what is clear is that whatever the deal (or no deal) the role of local and sub national government will be essential in the development of a post Brexit UK. Yet the story of the last two years does not give a great deal of cause for optimism. The UK government has not engaged in any systematic or strategic way with local government over Brexit. There is no sense that it has looked at the issues from a place-based perspective. It is local authorities themselves that have tried to work through the complexities of Brexit for their areas, whilst the uncertainty about what the end result will be has undermined attempts to plan for a post Brexit world.

The problems this throws up are not unique to Brexit of course – the centralised nature of the state has meant central government has often not understood the effects of its decisions on individual places – but the potential for failure is much greater for Brexit.

It will be local government (and the devolved administrations) who should provide the basis for the new economy – reflecting the many different positions and needs across the UK. There are clearly opportunities here. The EU institutions were seen as remote by many voters; it is local and sub national government in all its forms that needs to press for a central role in democratising power and responsibilities as the process of repatriation and rebuilding begins. Let’s hope the UK government starts to grasp that lesson from now on in - the end game is rapidly encroaching.

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