1.We are publishing this report now, five days after the originally intended date for the UK leaving the EU, because while the departure date has been extended, it is clear that many questions about the impact of Brexit on local government remain unresolved. We have heard that many local authorities would not have been fully prepared for leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. Given the critical role local government will play in ensuring “a smooth and orderly Exit which delivers an outcome that works for local communities across the country”, it is vital that the extension of Article 50 is used as an opportunity, for both local government and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), to resolve outstanding issues and make further preparations.
2.When we announced our inquiry into Brexit and local government in October 2017, the intention was to keep a ‘watching brief’ on the potential impacts of Brexit on local government; as the inquiry has progressed, we have kept the Government abreast of questions and concerns and made recommendations in correspondence based on the evidence with which we have been presented. We would like to thank everyone who submitted written evidence to our inquiry or who provided oral evidence over the four sessions we held for drawing our attention to the key themes. As a consequence, MHCLG has taken various positive steps, and made commitments to further progress. For example, we were pleased to see the Department address concerns about Government engagement with local authorities by establishing the EU Exit Local Government Delivery Board.
3.The repercussions of the numerous legislative and policy decisions that have, and will, be made in the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will be strongly felt at the local level. The direct impact of Brexit on the responsibilities and workload of local authorities must therefore be closely monitored during and after the withdrawal process. Witnesses repeatedly told us that many local authorities are already working at capacity, having had to adapt to significant cuts to their budgets over the last few years. They expressed concern at the continued uncertainty about many aspects of both the withdrawal process and post-exit domestic policy. If local authorities are to be expected to take on new burdens and responsibilities, it will be necessary for them to receive greater clarity, funds and support to continue successfully delivering services that people rely on every day.
4.The remainder of this short report, therefore, presents ten recommendations for action based on the evidence we have received throughout this inquiry. Five of these refer to priorities that local government representatives have raised with us regarding the immediate and short-term impact of Brexit, which we would expect to see addressed before the UK leaves the EU. A further five recommendations refer to important areas to consider after withdrawal, including risks and opportunities that Brexit presents in the longer term which should not be neglected.
Published: 3 April 2019