District council sets aside thousands as Brexit plans gather pace
PUBLISHED: 08:41 14 February 2019
Uttlesford District Council (UDC) has set aside £200,000 to offset the possible risks of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
The funds appear in UDC’s budget for this upcoming year, to manage any risks relating to Brexit, in what has been called a “painful but necessary move” by a Liberal Democrat district councillor.
Essex County Council, meanwhile, has decided to suspend any further property investments until a resolution in discussions between the UK and the EU.
The UDC budget, which contains the earmarked Brexit funds, will be presented to full council for approval on February 21, after it was recommended for approval by cabinet on Tuesday evening.
UDC’s “contingency fund” could be spent on border controls at Stansted Airport, in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
A UDC spokesman said: “The council has been working with Government on contingency planning for Britain’s proposed exit from the EU under different scenarios. It is proposing to earmark a contingency fund in case it has to incur additional expenditure.
“The council is responsible for controlling food imports into the UK through Stansted Airport. At present it uses access to EU information systems for tracking consignments to or from the EU. In the event of a no deal exit, all existing agreements, including access to EU systems that support the safe importation/exportation of food products would cease to be available.
“There may need to be reliance on manual systems during the transition to UK systems. More resources may be needed to operate the border controls in these circumstances and maintain other statutory environmental protection services.”
He added: “It may be the case that no extra funding is required, in which case the earmarked money will be released back in to the general fund.”
Councillor Alan Dean, who represents Stansted North, said: “Brexit is on a very slow, winding track that looks like costing every one of us in Uttlesford a great deal for years to come. It’s already costing Government taxpayers billions. I will not be surprised to see councils like Uttlesford losing even more funding from Westminster as today’s austerity evolves into Brexterity.”
Cllr Dean added: “Setting aside £200,000 for the local impact of Brexit is a painful but necessary move. For example, Uttlesford has border responsibilities at Stansted Airport that could well create problems if the UK crashes out of the EU in March. Sadly, there’s no guarantee that the government will refund council taxpayers for its own mishandling of Brexit.”
Essex County Council (ECC) has also been making plans for Brexit. A grant from Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire will see the council receive £87,500 this year to help deal with Brexit. Last year, ECC also received £87,500.
Councillor Kevin Bentley, deputy leader of Essex County Council, said: “I am grateful to James Brokenshire who has listened to what councils were telling him about the extra support needed to deal with Brexit effectively.
“In order to maximise the usefulness of the money, we will be exploring how we might pool allocations across Essex. With two international airports and four major seaports, we need to ensure that all the necessary resilience is in place to deal with whatever EU exit scenario we are presented with.”
An ECC spokesman confirmed that the council’s commercial property investment programme has been paused due to current market conditions, including the unknown impact of Brexit. The decision will be reviewed further this summer.
In light of this decision, the Saffron Walden Labour Party questioned UDC’s plans to invest millions in commercial property. Proposals in UDC’s budget include borrowing £100million to fund investment in the coming years. Of this, £20million would be allocated to further investment at Chesterford Research Park.
Daniel Brett, spokesman for Saffron Walden Labour Party, said: “In contrast to Essex, Uttlesford wants to push ahead with commercial property investment at a time of great uncertainty and without seeking independent advice, such as the kind Essex seeks to guide its investment strategy.
“It is another example of Uttlesford’s reckless naïveté that could undermine long-term funding for our local services.”
In response, a UDC spokesman said: “Uttlesford’s investment strategy is a long-term plan and any implications from EU exit or other factors will of course be carefully considered. Just like Essex County Council, Uttlesford District Council engages external, independent, expert advice when considering any potential investment. This is a key part of the due diligence process.”