Food rationing, labour shortages and damage to the tourist trade were at the heart of Brexit contingency planning by Rother District Council at a meeting last week. And there may not be enough cash or staff to deal with the situation, members were told.
Rother District Council’s (RDC) Audit and Standards Committee met on Monday September 23 to discuss the likely effects on Rother’s residents of the UK leaving the EU – and the report accompanying the meeting wasn’t easy reading.
In pulling its Brexit assessment together, Rother recognised that “this is a highly political area and it is important to try and assess the risks as neutrally as possible”.
RDC’s Brexit assessment starts off by warning that “work on the impacts of Brexit could potentially consume a large amount of officer resource that this Council simply does not possess”.
In the past two years central government has contributed about £35,000 to Rother to assist with Brexit planning – deal or no deal – but the Council stressed that “these grants are not expected to meet any on-going costs to services following Brexit”. Rother is clear that in delivering on Brexit it will need to divert RDC staff to work on it with little additional resource.
Aside from the impact Brexit may have on local authorities, Rother warns that there are also implications to commercial and voluntary businesses as well as impacts on local communities. Rother’s updated Brexit assessment stressed: “At the time of writing this report, the political environment continues to change and so preparations are being undertaken in this uncertain climate. The information . . . is not intended to be an exhaustive list nor will it be a static document.”
One of Rother’s chief areas of concern is the possible effect on the tourist trade if a tourist visa system is introduced, and the damage to the UK’s image of as a “welcoming place”. In towns such as Rye and Battle that depend on the tourist trade, a drop in European visitors could have a substantial local impact and lead to job losses the report warns. On the other hand, the report also points out that the drop in the exchange rate has made it cheaper for European tourists to visit the UK.
The Council is concerned that a reduction in the tourist trade would also see a drop in local gross domestic product in towns like Rye, which have such a strong visitor economy and this would adversely impact on small local businesses and employment.
Other areas of concern include the potential increase in business failures due to their reliance on EU labour. The impact could be significant in certain sectors such as tourism, agriculture and health care which rely heavily on EU workers.
The fishing sector was identified as one sector that could be severely affected by Brexit but stressed that “the fishing community in general has argued for EU exit and/or reduction of regulations”. A no-agreement exit might mean EU restrictions are lifted but boats from the rest of UK might fish locally if denied access to European waters.
The potential slowdown in housing construction due to reliance on EU labour was also brought to the Committee’s attention. Rother already struggles to meet local need for new housing and the report also highlighted the potential loss of income to the Council from planning application fees, community infrastructure levy and Section 106 contributions.
Rother also raises the concern that there could be an increase in inter-community tension caused by friction around exiting the EU or a potential re-run referendum. Councillors agreed that “the impact on community relations will depend upon both the number/nature of incidents and how they are responded to”.
One area which would be of the greatest concern to residents was listed as “unknown” by Rother and that was potential “delays in the importation of food, medicines and other critical supplies from the continent and supplies running out/short supply”.
Rother concluded that: “If this appears likely there might be panic and disruption …(and) there might be the need for rationing.” The Council was concerned that RDC staff could be involved in implementing national plans at a local level, managing any shortages that occur as a result of EU exit.
The UK government has brought together local public service providers, the voluntary and community sector, community groups and businesses to effectively prepare for the potential local impacts of leaving the EU without a deal. The South East regional lead officer for local government EU Exit Affairs is Becky Shaw, who is also the Chief Executive of East Sussex County Council.
Rother’s full Brexit assessment can be found here.