In late September 2020 the Conservative Group for Europe circulated a questionnaire to senior Conservative Councillors in major English local authorities. Response was voluntary, unattributable and we are not making any claim that it is a structured survey of all councils.
We do believe that the views picked up in the survey raise some significant issues which need addressing in the next couple of months to ensure a successful transition to life outside the EU. The key points made by respondents were as follows:
About half of responding councillors believe their authority receives significant funding directly or indirectly from the EU. However, less that than 10% of respondents felt they understood how these funds would be replaced in 2021.
The councillors identified regional development/LEP programmes alongside academic, life sciences and innovation funds as the main sources. The downside of some of these sources was seen by some as the bureaucracy attached to applying for the money.
Respondents think that the most likely benefit from the UK’s departure from the EU will be ease of access to improved procurement processes. They also felt there will be an opportunity for the government to invest in services with looser state aid provisions and that this will make access to funding easier. There is a belief that greater devolution to local government not only from EU regulation but also Westminster would be good, for instance in creating more freedom to commission capital and revenue projects.
About a quarter of respondents felt very confident that they could support and prepare businesses in their area for the coming changes. Just under half felt that substantial clarification was still required. There was clear recognition that a great deal of work had been done already. The significant areas of concern were around the impact of new immigration policies on the workforce and the ability of business to adapt to changes in trading terms which have yet to be agreed. In addition, there was concern about traffic congestion and lorry handling around Ro Ro ports where recent work by the government is recognised but substantial unknowns remain.
The dispersal process for migrants is negatively affecting most local authority areas in our sample with the largest concern being the effect on children’s services. There is a wider concern on resource taken up by a series of other issues including rough sleepers, gang activity/modern day slavery, and the housing/support of asylum seekers with complex immigration/health issues over the long period required by immigration assessment.
Whilst there is support for the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme, there is concern that similar resources are not available to other members of the community.
Almost all respondents believe that international co-operation with countries such as France is required to effectively manage migration, with about half of respondents believing that our likely exit from Europol will impact authorities ability to handle issues such as people smuggling and drug importation.
Half of respondents feel that changes in immigration may lead to increased shortages of adult care home workers, whilst some respondents are more concerned about seasonal workers and skilled workers.
A negotiated outcome is not generally on councils At Risk registers. However, about two thirds of respondents said that their authority had “No trade deal” on their At Risk register with the key concerns being:
- Friction in food/pharmaceutical supply chains
- Demands on council resources
- Staff settled status
- Trading standards
- Increased council costs
Overall, with all of the other pressures on councils, the survey respondents communicated a need for more detail from Central Government to help ensure a successful outcome.