Hertfordshire councillors consider risks of a no-deal Brexit

DISRUPTION in medicine supplies, rising food costs and public disorder are among the  potential risks of a ‘no-deal Brexit’ being considered by Hertfordshire County Council.

Officials at the county council have been drawing-up preparations for a no deal withdrawal from the European Union since the end of 2018.

Now – with less than three months before the end of the so-called transition period, on December 31 – it is still not clear whether the UK will leave with deal.

And on October 1, the council’s resources and performance cabinet panel was presented with a report on the potential risks to Hertfordshire of a ‘no deal’ scenario – as well as the ongoing work to address them.

Although that report says a shortage of food within the county is “deemed unlikely”, it does suggest that – in the case of ‘no deal’ – there could be a reduction in choice of some foodstuffs, like fresh produce – or rises in prices.

It says delays to freight leaving or arriving in UK ports are not expected to have a direct impact on the county, but it says any traffic disruption could have a knock-on effect on the Hertfordshire road network.

And it points to the risk of public disorder – either as a direct result of the UK exit or as a result of a knock-on impact, such as traffic congestion or fuel disruption.

The report also points to the ‘detrimental’ impact a reduction in the flow of goods between the UK and the EU could have on supply chains.

And although it says that national arrangements will ensure demands for medicine and medical equipment will be met for a period of time, in the longer term it says any disruption at UK borders could result in local supply chain problems in this area too.

However the report stresses the difficulty in identifying the potential implications at this time.

“It remains difficult to form an accurate, detailed, evidence-based assessment of the potential risks and opportunities of post Brexit arrangements until the UK’s future relationship with the EU is clarified,” says the report.

Specifically for the county council, the report says a no-deal Brexit could have implications for skills shortages in a range of service

areas – including engineers, carers, nurses and planners.

It could, says the report, impact on the recruitment of staff in areas such as domiciliary care – pointing to the impact a devaluation of the pound could have on EU workers who send money back to their home country.

And it says uncertainty around exchange rates, fluctuations in interest rates and VAT rules on importing goods could also have an impact.

Meanwhile, amongst other areas of the council’s work, it says a refusal or inability to carry out enough border checks could increase the risk of more unaccompanied asylum seekers.

In order to consider the local response to Brexit,  Hertfordshire’s Local Resilience Forum (LRF) – which brings together the county council and other agencies – has already set up a ‘strategic co-ordinating group’.

And since September there has bee an EU Transition Tactical Co-ordinating Group.

Internally the council has also set up a Brexit Incident Management Team, which is meeting every two weeks and involves senior officers from each council directorate.

The country voted to leave the European Union in June 2016 – officially leaving on January 1 this year.

The government is still negotiating the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, with regard to areas such as trade, immigration, aviation, security and access to fishing waters.

The transition period will end on December 31. It is not yet clear whether the UK will leave with – or without – a deal.

The government has, says the report, given local authorities some funding to assist them with their preparations for Brexit.

So far, Hertfordshire County Council has received £262,50 – of which £102,500 has been spent or earmarked for highways fuel storage, a Fire Service secondment to the Council’s Resilience Team, trading standards officer Brexit support and contingency for advertising

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