Contingency plans for Brexit are in place at Cheshire West and Chester Council – but a ‘no deal’ scenario would scupper them, cabinet members have warned.
As it stands under UK law, Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, regardless of whether the Government secures a deal that can be approved both in Brussels and Westminster.
That comes just three days before the new financial year begins, and CWAC is currently putting the finishing touches to its budget for 2019-20.
At a scrutiny meeting where the draft budget was considered on Monday night, Cllr Karen Shore, chairman of the council’s post-Brexit policy commission, moved to reassure members that the local authority has done all it can to prepare for Brexit.
The cabinet member for environment said: “We have done everything possible to try to anticipate and mitigate any issues that might arise. It is very much dependent on the national decision making.
“We have, just this week, heard about some funding that we will get to deal with the things that we do anticipate would happen – but of course, that is not the same thing as in the event of a ‘no deal’.
“Having said that, the commission has been working now for six months, we do have a contingency plan and as far as possible we have tried to anticipate what the issues might be.
“But it does definitely depend on if it is a ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ scenario, and we would hope that if it is a ‘no deal’ scenario then we would see further additional emergency funding come from the Government – but we don’t have any information on that currently.”
Cllr Samantha Dixon, leader of CWAC, confirmed to the committee that the local authority is due to receive £210,000 over a two-year period from central Government to help it deal with Brexit.
She praised the work of the commission for helping CWAC ‘know exactly what we are trying to deal with’ and said the authority is also working with Cheshire East and Warrington councils, as well as the local enterprise partnership.
“We are closely following developments and looking carefully through what the implications may or may not be of whatever Government decides to do,” the Labour member for Chester City added.
A report presented to the committee highlighted that the current economic climate ‘continues to prove challenging’, with the impact of Brexit a considerable factor.
CWAC asked residents if they felt the council should spend more money on helping businesses prepare for Brexit in last autumn’s pre-budget consultation – and while some agreed, others felt it is the role of Government rather than the council.
But Cllr Neil Sullivan, shadow cabinet member for legal and finance in CWAC’s Conservative group, insisted Brexit is not all doom and gloom.
He said: “While the reduction in exchange rate versus the Euro has increased import costs, what it has done is allow manufacturing businesses – my own as an example – to increase exports to Europe.
“So it is a two-sided coin, and what I hope it would do over time is allow the UK to rebalance, so that we actually produce more of the goods that we require ourselves and have a smaller deficit – and hopefully, a surplus.
“But it will be change, and yes it will be difficult for some businesses and organisations, but hopefully in time we will see some progress.”
By Stephen Topping – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).