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Image courtesy South Tyneside

Councillor Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, says councils in North East England should make their voices heard over Brexit. We’re reposting this for Scottish members with an interest in how local government is handling Brexit (just) over the border.

Virtually every element of Brexit affects local government, our communities and businesses, from economic conditions, jobs and employment, to the people who make up our communities and workforces, and the environment in which we live and work.

Now more than ever it is vital that our view, and those of our partners, help shape the Brexit negotiations.

If we are to deliver services effectively then we must have a say in the regulations which govern them and this is why, in the North East, South Tyneside Council is driving an initiative to help start defining priorities for the North East and ensure the region’s voice is heard during upcoming negotiations.

In the Summer, politicians, academics and business and industry leaders from around the region assembled in South Tyneside to map out the next steps for a successful Brexit.

BREXploration, staged by South Tyneside Council, invited key stakeholders from the public, private and third sectors to discuss the challenges and implications arising from Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Over 65 attendees and speakers joined the session to begin charting a course for a post-Brexit future.

The proactive discussion was intended to help start defining priorities for the North East and ensure the region’s voice is heard as negotiations unfold.

The BREXploration discussion focused on Workforce and Skills, Community Collaboration and Increasing Prosperity.

Three Expert Chairs – Alan Donnelly, former MEP, Caroline Theobald, of FIRST Face to Face Ltd, and Dr Henry Kippin, of think-tank Collaborate, led intensive round-table discussions based on themes from the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan.

The Increasing Prosperity discussion, chaired by Alan Donnelly, considered the region’s needs in terms of trade and international direct investment.

The Workforce and Skills roundtable, led by Caroline Theobald CBE, examined current and anticipated shortages in skills across public and private sector, discussing the impact of changes in immigration policy upon health services through to manufacturing.

The Community Collaboration discussion, guided by Dr Henry Kippin, debated community strengths and needs, and what successful devolved services could look like.

Professor Steve Fothergill of the Industrial Communities Alliance also used the forum to share proposals for post-Brexit replacement of regional structural funding.

The event concluded with a plenary session to summarise key points raised and feedback, which will form the basis of the report.

There are two critical policy issues that pose existential threats to the North East, the first is the future funding for the region, which has benefited greatly from EU Structural funds.

Without certainty over a replacement for these funds or the clarity in how we are going to continue supporting and growing our economy, we risk falling off a cliff edge.  That will seriously disadvantage the region, at a time when our economy needs to be strong and resilient to prosper globally.

The second issue is the consequence of our manufacturing sector no longer benefiting from the Customs Union. The North East has a trade surplus with the EU. It is essential for us and for many of the other regions and nations in the UK that we remain part of the Customs Union.

The feedback from discussions has been captured in a report to be presented to key government departments and ministerial teams over the coming months.

As the North East Leader driving forward these discussions I will be updating LGiU members on progress as we move through the democratic process.

It is clear that we need to reflect what our communities wanted when many voted for Brexit. It is up to local authorities to take leadership and help provide both voice and stability as Brexit affects every part of our economy.

Others may be happy for London to dominate the Brexit‎ discussions, but we are taking the case for the North East, and what we want, to them.