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Brexit: How have UK councils prepared?

By Sebastien Ash
BBC Political Research Unit

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image copyrightPA Media
image captionLorries queue on the A20 outside Dover, in Kent, where Operation Stack is being implemented

Councils have spent money repaving roads, hiring vets, stockpiling food for school meals and registering their own staff for the EU settled status scheme in preparation for Brexit.

Details of council spending were released to BBC News in response to Freedom of Information requests made to all upper-tier authorities in the United Kingdom.

The burden fell most heavily on councils in strategically important areas, such as those near ports that may have to deal with increased checks and lorry tailbacks in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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Altogether, 204 upper-tier authorities responded to the BBC's request for information. Of those, 58 provided details of Brexit-related spending, including staffing costs.

A number of councils were unable to estimate the cost of staff time on Brexit-related work.

Government funding

In the run-up to March 2019, councils were allocated a share of £56.5m put aside by the Ministry for Communities, Housing and Local Government (MCHLG) to deal with Brexit preparedness.

Of this, £20m was divvied up among councils for 2018-19, ahead of the UK's exit from the EU, and another £20m was earmarked for 2019-20, seen as a fund to deal with the potentially disruptive effects of a no-deal exit.

Some local authorities have also received direct funding from the Department for Transport, for specific projects.

A large chunk of this funding - almost £29m for Operation Brock - went to Kent County Council to deal with a potential increase in traffic around the Port of Dover.

Pressure on ports

A no-deal exit from the European Union could bung up Britain's ports. Lorries travelling to and from the Continent could be subject to greater checks, creating tailbacks that could go on for miles.

Councils have responded to this by spending on road improvements.

Hampshire County Council spent £178,142 on designs to upgrade routes feeding the Port of Portsmouth, with works estimated to cost £200,000 to follow.

With its responsibility for the area around the Port of Dover - the UK's most important point of access for the Continent - Kent County Council has spent much of the money from the Department for Transport improving the A256 between Dover and Manston Airfield, where backed-up lorries would be parked.

Portsmouth, Sunderland and Kent, again, all put plans in place for lorry parks in the event of a no deal. In Sunderland, £19,735 was paid to lease land for a lorry park to ease supply-chain pressures at the local Nissan plant and a further £11,942 to furnish it with manhole covers.

Others looked at ways to smooth the flow of traffic through their ports by employing extra staff.

Portsmouth spent £67,182 on port staffing costs, while Southampton employed more veterinary staff for the port at a cost of £30,380 for 2018-19.

'Gridlocked borough'

Some councils say a no-deal Brexit could threaten their ability to deliver services.

A risk assessment commissioned by Thurrock Council said the area, home to three major ports, could become a "gridlocked borough".

In response, the council spent over £8,000 on 10 electric bicycles - to ensure carers and support staff for vulnerable individuals could visit them even if the roads were blocked.

Thurrock and their neighbours in Southend also bought fuel tanks, for about £4,500, to keep council workers on the road in the event of a "national fuel shortage".

And it's not just maritime ports concerning councils, Leicestershire Council bought equipment for traffic management in case of any knock-on effects from increased freight checks at East Midlands Airport.

EU citizens and council services

Nine councils have taken steps to register EU citizens for the government's settled status scheme. Under this, more than 3.2 million EU citizens resident in the UK before exit or the end of any transition period will have the same rights as they do now.

Five of these were in Greater London, where large numbers of EU citizens live.

In Brent, the London borough with the highest number of EU citizens, the council spent £1,500 on document-scanning equipment to register residents for settled status.

In total, five councils bought new devices to register EU citizens - sometimes Google Android devices to replace Apple products, which do not support the government's app.

In Slough, the council reported using staff time, at an estimated cost of £1,530, to sign up its own workers for the scheme.

'Public order issues'

In Bristol, the city council spent £1,500 employing "a small mobile unit of security officers" to monitor the European elections in May this year.

image copyrightReuters
image captionRenfrewshire Council stockpiled food to secure supplies for school meals in the event of a no-deal Brexit

It said it had been responding to "reports of low level public order issues occurring in neighbouring areas during their 2 May elections, with Brexit cited as a triggering issue".

Meanwhile, Renfrewshire Council stockpiled £58,232 worth of food to avoid potential supply issues for school meals and care homes.

Future preparations

And council spending on preparations to mitigate the potential consequences of a no deal, ahead of the UK's planned exit on 29 March 2019, has had to be extended following the extension granted by the EU to the Article 50 period, until 31 October.

Staff hired in anticipation of exit will have to be retained until they are needed or can be released.

"Planning exercises held in the run up to 31 March will now have to be repeated in the run up to 31 October," Southend-on-Sea Borough Council said in response to a query.

The Local Government Association said in a statement that councils were "as prepared as they can be given the uncertainty surrounding the process" but "there remains resource, information and advice gaps that councils are facing while helping their communities prepare, which need to be met by the government".

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