The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride in British politics.
The plot seems to twist and turn daily as the country nears the Brexit deadline of 31 October - with no clear indication of whether a deal will be secured in time or not.
The uncertainty surrounding Brexit makes planning for the unknown a challenge - and our local councils are among those drawing up contingency plans and weighing up any risk factors.
And while many detailed plans are being kept under wraps, local authorities have revealed they are working together as part of the Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF) – a multi-agency partnership made up of the Lancashire Police Lancashire Fire and Rescue, North West Ambulance Service, councils, the NHS, and Environment Agency.
Some £632,000 of additional funding has been supplied to the resilience forums in Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire and Cumbria to support them in their Brexit preparations.
The funding will be used to directly support the development of robust Brexit plans for their areas and continued preparedness activities, including supporting additional staffing costs
At Preston Council, a risk register has been produced identifying the “adverse impact” of the UK’s exit from EU.
The council would not disclose the full details, branding them ‘sensitive’, but revealed it is meeting with the LRF executive weekly, feeding back to the government and has treasury advice in place with expert advice on its investments.
Ally Brown, director of corporate services at Preston Council, said: “The council is following government guidelines in preparing for Brexit, this includes participating as a member of the Lancashire Local Resilience Forum and engaging with government through several communication channels.”
Chorley Council, on the other hand, has opened up about its pre-Brexit preparations, providing its risk register in full to the Post.
Among the 30 identified risks posed by Brexit, the council has highlighted:
• A potential shortage in cleaning products that could lead to closing council buildings on “health grounds”.
• Fuel shortages that may restrict councillors from carrying out decision-making duties and stop staff from attending work.
• A shortage of ballot papers and postal votes for a snap general election due to paper supply coming from within the EU.
• Loss of council tax and business rates income due to the possibility of recession.
But the authority also remains optimistic that it can take advantage of “opportunities” in the aftermath of Brexit.
Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, said: “Like all councils up and down the county, Chorley Council has been considering what the potential impact of leaving the European Union will have on our services, residents and businesses. There is nothing secretive or confidential about our approach.
“We are working with partners and suppliers to ensure that our communities are not adversely affected and there is a continuity of services for residents and businesses.
“We also want to make sure we can take advantage of opportunities that may arise once the UK has left the EU.”
The Resilience Forum is also working closely with South Ribble Council, which is understood to be currently finalising its own risk register document.
Gary Hall, interim chief executive at South Ribble and the authority’s designated Brexit Lead Officer, said: “The process of leaving the EU and the impact this will have on the wider population is uncertain and there are still a number of unknowns.
“We understand there is a need to be flexible and responsive, and as a local authority, we’re working closely with all relevant partners across Lancashire and as part of the Lancashire Resilience Forum to prepare for Brexit, considering the impact to services, businesses, residents and how this will impact our existing delivery plans.”
“However, even with this approach, much remains unclear and over the coming weeks we will be offering advice and sign-posting local businesses and residents to the latest information on leaving the European Union.”
In Fylde, the council has nominated a lead officer for Brexit, who has established a small working team to oversee preparations.
A spokesman said: “Council officers have considered the potential impact of Brexit across its range of services, such as the possible disruption to supplies of fuel that would affect refuse collection services, and have taken action to prepare for any such eventuality, such as in the case of possible fuel supply issues by ensuring that adequate stocks are maintained and that future deliveries are arranged well in advance of need.”
The council revealed officers receive a “significant” amount of information on Brexit-related matters through daily communication on a national level.
Officers also take part in teleconferences with the LRF to been informed on “emerging regional and national issues”.
Wyre Council has also produced a risk register – which was not shared with the Post when requested – and is “regularly” communicating with the LRF.
“We also take part in weekly Local Government Brexit briefing dial-ins for weekly updates,” said a spokesman.
“We will continue to communicate with residents, businesses and visitors of Wyre on how they need to prepare.”
In Lancaster, the district is sharing in a slice of £450,000 of government funding for the North West to help prepare for Brexit - in recognition of the potential impact on the likes of Heysham Port, where money will be invested in infrastructure and signage to help keep trade flowing.
Coun Dr Erica Lewis, leader of Lancaster City Council, said she had fears over a no-deal Brexit.
She said: “We are working closely with the Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF), which brings together representatives from the public sector, including the emergency services, local authorities and the NHS. Our economic team is in regular contact with businesses to monitor their own preparations and highlight any concerns.
“That the planning for a no-deal Brexit is conducted through the LRF, a body that usually plans for emergencies, highlights how many risks a no-deal Brexit presents.
“Yet the government continues to push us towards a risky, no-deal Brexit, which the city council strongly opposes due to the likely detrimental impact it would have on our district, its businesses, communities and residents.”
Printing paper at Sheffield Web printers, Dinnington, one of the items that could face adverse Brexit impact...
...and fuel availability will come into question too.
We also want to make sure we can take advantage of opportunities that may arise once the UK has left the EU
Coun Alistair Bradley
What are Local Resilience Forums?
A Local Resilience Forum is a multi-agency partnership made up of representatives from local public services, including the emergency services, local authorities, the NHS, the Environment Agency and others. These are called Category 1 responders.
LRFs are supported by Category 2 responders such as the Highways Agency and public utility companies, which have a responsibility to co-operate with Category 1 organisations and to share relevant information with the LRF. The LRF is a requirement of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
At a local level, LRFs plan and prepare for localised incidents and emergencies. They work to identify potential risks and produce emergency plans to either prevent or mitigate the impact of any incident on their local communities.
The geographical area the forums cover is based on police areas, and many but not all LRFs are chaired by police.
Details of Chorley Council’s Brexit risk register
Chorley Council has shared its detailed risk register with the Post, highlighting 30 potential risks brought about by leaving the European Union.
Here are just some of the potential highlighted issues in the report:
• A strong possibility that decision making in Chorley would be hit, with the availability of fuel impacting on councillors attending meetings.
• Paper supply is set to be impacted due to most supplies sourced from within the EU, with supply being “interrupted” and impacting on the ability to produce ballot papers and postal votes in the case of a general election. The council has said it will “continue to work closely with the printers to monitor the situation”. To counter the risk, printers have stocked on goods to make any snap election manageable.
• A serious risk of fuel shortages impacting the ability for staff to attend work or undertake work activities. But the council has said it is doing all it can to lessen this through the likes of car sharing, Cycle to Work scheme, flexible working, and to keep fleet vehicles topped up regularly.
• Costs could be set to increase for the remote storage of data within the EU.
• The removal of EU funding from Chorley was highlighted, with regeneration work at Yarrow Valley being part-funded by the EU – but they are “almost at an end and will not be impacted by a withdrawal of funding for money already spent”.
• Future borrowing has been highlighted as a risk due to the potential devaluation of the Pound and lending having an “increase risk”. But council borrowing is linked to Public Works Loan Board rates rather than private – “however a rise in the rate will increase financing costs”.
• Risk of a recession brought on by Brexit could reduce council tax and business rates income. But the council believes it is somewhat prepared due to its £2m business rates equalisation reserve, a £300,000 Brexit reserve, and a bad debt and appeals reserve to manage fluctuations in income. The Brexit reserve has also been highlighted to deal with rising inflation.
• A failure in the supply chain of cleaning products could lead to closing council buildings on health grounds.
Catherine Moss, chair of Manchester for Europe, a group which requested risk reports from all councils across the North West, said: “The concerns identified here are not hyperbole from politicians in the Remain campaign or exaggeration by journalists. They are the sober assessment of public officials in Chorley dedicated to the provision of key services from housing to traffic and waste management.
“This is not ‘project fear’ so much as ‘project here’ because the impact on council services will affect thousands of people in Chorley and the surrounding area as they go about their everyday business in these communities.”