The public sector has not been given their “seat at the Brexit table”, the head of the County Councils Network (CCN) has said.
Simon Edwards, director at CCN, a representative body for county councils and unitary authorities, said the sector was not being engaged on Brexit, and warned officials they needed to approach the subject tactfully or risk having their grievances dismissed as ‘Remoaning’.
Speaking at the Public Sector Show during a Brexit panel discussion, Edwards said: “I think it’s probably fair to say that after a year it’s fairly obvious that there isn’t a seat, there’s no table and there’s probably not even a single room or group of people for local government and the public sector to engage in on their issues and discussions around Brexit.”
Edwards said debate was still politicised, making it difficult for the public sector to navigate. Even in Whitehall there are individuals who are unable to accept Brexit opinions that differ from their own, said Edwards, and it is in this context that the sector needs to consider how it effectively makes its case.
Edwards warned issues would be dismissed out of hand as coming from ‘Remoaners’ – people who are only complaining because they didn’t want Brexit to happen – if presented as concerns or problems. “We need to make sure we look like we’re neutral on Brexit.” In practice this means trying to raise concerns as opportunities, and providing solutions for problems, he said.
He added: “Let’s not be completely despondent. I’ve had discussions with ministers, senior civil servants and they say if we get our act together, if we make our points in the right way then they may have to take notice of our views.”
Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, said Brexit would not create any opportunities for the sector.
“There are consequences which we will have to deal with,” he said, adding that the public sector would be left to pick up the pieces as best it could. “It’s all been about clearing up the mess. We’ll carry on doing it because that’s what local government does best.”
However, the panel was also told increased devolution would be one of main Brexit opportunities for public sector, provided it could close its skills gap.
Bev Hurley, chair of the Institute of Economic Development (IED), an industry body representing development and regeneration consultants, said localism was a key opportunity.
But a great deal needed to be done to build leadership capacity and capabilities in areas including procurement, she said.
“The challenge of the localism agenda is around skills deficits [and] leadership deficits at the local level,” she said.
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