The story that has emerged over the last week or so that we may have to begin stockpiling food, medicines and other essentials in readiness for a no-deal Brexit is disturbing to say the least. It reveals something of the shock we can expect next April without adequate planning and without the complex infrastructure required to maintain supply chains.
But these stories about Brexit also demonstrate the inadequacy of Britain’s overly centralised system of governance.
In terms of civil contingency, or planning for food shortages, unrest, or access to essential resources and services, surely local government is at the right place and scale to work with communities and coordinate action across the country. But they do not seem to feature in the government’s planning so far. Indeed, though rumours that the army will be drafted in to distribute food have been denied by Number 10, it is typical of the British, centralising modus operandi that this doesn’t seem too unbelievable or wildly outlandish in the current climate.
Councils will have to shoulder the burden of the enormous changes that are afoot next spring, and not just in terms of civil contingency. Sky News’ findings this week, following FOI requests to around 30 councils confirms what we’ve heard in meetings and discussions with local authorities across the country. Though some councils are knuckling down and planning for severe outcomes, it seems clear that there is virtually no guidance from central government, no plan to give resources or powers to councils, and no framework to help local leaders facilitate any kind of coordinated action.
Quite the opposite, in fact. We hear that MHCLG officials have berated council leaders for their lack contingency planning so far, and even taken them to task for not “spotting the opportunities” that Brexit has to offer. Meanwhile, the seriousness of the situation is critical. Operation Brock, one of the contingency plans in Kent, will see huge disruption around Dover when new customs arrangements kick in, with the M20 designated “a giant lorry park”. Once again, there has been next to no support or guidance from central government.
There are differing opinions across local government about the pros and cons of Brexit. But we could and should be united in agreement that decent planning for contingency at the local level is essential. Councils already face huge pressures on their budgets, on resources and in maintaining essential services for their communities. They certainly don’t need massive additional burdens at this time. But they will be at the heart of managing the coming transition. They must therefore be part of the plan and be fully empowered to play their role.
We’ve published several briefings on Brexit related issues recently, exclusively for LGiU members. Most recently: