Friday 24 June 2016

Brexit: and devolution in the South West

There were questions before yesterday's vote:
Futures Forum: Brexit/Bremain: and devolution

There are even more questions after.

The North of England definitely feels 'left out':
Leaving the North behind led to Brexit. Here's what has to happen next
Brexit would widen the north-south divide as poorest areas stand to lose most | Peter Hetherington | Society | The Guardian

In the South West, there are questions over the 'big project':
Delays at Hinkley Point Nuclear plant as workers launch action against EDF | This is Money
Hinkley C: delay piles up on delay | East Devon Watch

And there are questions over how Brexit will impact the region's economy:
Regions ‘will feel different Brexit impacts’ - Harrogate Advertiser

With the business community having been firmly behind Bremain:
Top economist: Staying in EU means more power for South West | Plymouth Herald

Brexit threat to South West's councils

By WT_Herald | Posted: June 24, 2016

SOUTH West councils may be threatened by plummeting financial markets following the Brexit vote, an expert says.

Ian Brokenshire, KPMG's Plymouth-based lead for enterprise in the South West, said local government could be hit by a downturn in the financial markets. "It would put further pressure on already hard-pressed local authority finances, as well as impacting local government pension scheme deficits," he said. "Prior to the referendum, the Leave campaign argued Brexit would, in due course, bring benefits in the form of freedom from restrictive EU regulation and interference. As a result, some in local government may be looking forward to relief from compliance with EU procurement rules, which are often cited as the reason for hold-ups in delivery of vital contracts. However, much of the sentiment in the sector is far from upbeat."

Mr Brokenshire said the hospitality sector, as a major income-generator in the region, will be looking to reassure the large numbers of EU nationals employed in the sector. "EU supplier and commercial contracts will need to be reviewed, and there will also be concerns over foreign visitor numbers within the industry," he said. "All of these factors could have a material impact on operations and revenues."

Mr Brokenshire said uncertainty around income would affect the agricultural industry too. "However, there is an opportunity to join forces and negotiate preferential government payments to replace the EU 'CAP' system," he said.

But he stressed that in a region which predominantly voted "out", the referendum decision represents an opportunity for businesses in the South West which are fast enough to adapt to the changing environment. "Local business owners have woken up to a new era and will need time to assess the implications of the vote to leave the EU," he said. "The high number of entrepreneurs in the South West are a resilient group and have the agility to adapt to any new landscape. There will be a period of change while the exit is negotiated and new terms are agreed for cross border trade and there may be issues with investment and funding in the short term.

"However, local business owners are naturally positive and they are likely to see the sun through the clouds quicker than most." He added: "Across the region, many of my clients have planned for this result well. We are working with industries across the region to find the opportunities for their businesses that might not be immediately obvious."

Brexit threat to South West's councils | Plymouth Herald

And meanwhile, those South West councils are demanding 'a seat at the table':

Brexit raises questions about Osborne’s devo push

Jessica Studdert 24 Jun 16

The devolution genie is out of the bottle. As we debate our future sovereignty there needs to be a strong role for local governance

So now we know. Or do we? The UK faces months of uncertainty as the consequences of the Brexit vote, followed by David Cameron’s own exit, play out.

As all eyes turn to messy wrangling at Westminster, where does this leave local government? At this moment, the sector needs its voice heard, and clearly.

As a priority, local government needs a seat at the table as the financial and legal implications of Brexit are considered. The sector needs clarity over the replacement of nearly £6bn of European Structural Investment Funds invested in regional infrastructure, skills and youth unemployment schemes across the country. These funds play an important but largely hidden role in community infrastructure, with little public understanding of them. A Leave-led government will need to commit to continuing these or face huge local disruption. Beyond that, the practical implications for local government in legal and regulatory terms over huge swathes of activity – procurement, waste collection and disposal, energy efficiency – will need to be understood by those navigating the consequences of working outside EU directives.

Secondly, the future of devolution is by no means certain. George Osborne’s political future remains as bound to Cameron’s as it has ever been and so is now in serious doubt. Since devolution to date has been driven by a chancellor who invested his personal political capital in the agenda, local government now needs to make the policy resistant to personnel change at the Treasury. Whatever happens at Westminster and Whitehall, the impending invocation of Article 50 and ensuing trade negotiations will consume the energy of SW1 – so new and deeper devo deals will be much harder for the foreseeable future.

Thirdly, the repatriation of powers from Brussels to the UK will strengthen the supremacy of Parliament. It is likely that Scotland and Northern Ireland’s Remain majorities raise questions about their future within the UK. Local government in England needs to make sure any constitutional discussion does not stop at the national level and addresses how we are governed more fully. The Referendum vote lay bare the geographical divides within England and the alienation of swathes of the country from the Westminster establishment.

It is clear that representative democracy as we know it is in crisis – to ensure legitimate government in the future we need a serious discussion about where power lies and how our communities can have more influence in their own future. For those of us who are localists this is a given – but the terms of the national debate are not yet set in this way and they need to be. Local government needs to be heard.

Over the coming months there will be more opportunity for this. Continued dysfunction at Westminster, with both main parties divided from the Referendum fallout, gives an opportunity for local leadership to stand out on the national stage as never before. By the end of this year, candidates for new directly elected mayors will be in place and many of our city and county regions will have the opportunity to decide the future of their places. Will this help to shift the centre of political and constitutional gravity away from Westminster? Can we breathe new life into our struggling national democratic culture? Time will tell, but it is likely that the politics and kinetic energy generated by the referendum will continue and may influence these elections in ways we cannot yet foresee.

As we continue a national discussion over what sovereignty looks like, we need to make sure there is a strong local dimension which gives life to the rich diversity of our nation of cities and shires. The devolution genie is already out of the bottle and even as the Westminster bubble bursts, stronger local governance has the opportunity to take on a new life of its own. The future legitimacy of our democracy may well depend on it.

Brexit raises questions about Osborne’s devo push | Public Finance
Local Government Lawyer - LGA calls for councils to be given seat at table on replacement of EU laws

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