Southwark Council should create a one-off fund to support vulnerable residents through Brexit, a cross-party panel has recommended, ahead of today’s vote on Theresa May’s deal.
A string of recommendations proposed by the Southwark Brexit Panel, to be discussed at Cabinet next week, also include paying for settled status visas for EU council workers, regularly publishing the Council’s Brexit contingency plans, and a strategy to “identify and assess the risks to public order associated with a no-deal Brexit.”
It also welcomed a separate proposal to create a £2 million ‘Brexit Risk Reserve’ fund, as well as a £300,000 sum to “cover immediate cost pressures” because of Brexit.
The £300,000 would also cover the cost of acting on the panel’s recommendations if they are approved.
The panel, which was established in July, has called on the cabinet to “strongly make the case” that Southwark would be better off if the UK were to remain in the European Union.
In a foreword to the recommendations, Cllr Victoria Mills, Cabinet member for Finance, Performance and Brexit and chair of the Brexit panel accused the government of a “huge failure” to negotiate a well-prepared, well-resourced exit from the EU.
She said: “Local government concerns have been ignored and we appear to be left to face the many challenges of Brexit without proper guidance or financial support from government.”
The evidence gathered in sessions covering employment, education, healthcare and the rights of EU citizens “overwhelmingly supported the UK and Southwark remaining in the EU,” Cllr Mills added.
However, Cllr Mills emphasised that there was “currently nothing we as a council can do to change the outcome of the 2016 EU Referendum.”
The eighteen recommendations would have to be approved by Cabinet which is due to meet on Tuesday (January 22).
An associated report summarising the evidence given by local ‘expert witnesses’ at the panel’s evidence sessions highlights a catalogue of fears about the negative impact of Brexit.
The news comes ahead of tonight’s ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons on the negotiated Brexit deal, which is expected to be heavily defeated.
72.3 per cent of Southwark voted to remain in the European Union at the 2016 Referendum, with 41,000 non-Irish EU citizens living in the borough.
What the panel’s Brexit report found:
Vulnerable local sectors at risk from Brexit included hospitality, construction, social care tech and IT. Businesses raised concerns about recruitment, with possible employment gaps if there was a staffing impact from Brexit. Witnesses also noted increased insecurity for nearly 200 small businesses in the borough’s Latin Quarter.
Professor Patrick Bailey, Deputy Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University, raised fears with councillors that Brexit could make it harder for the institution to retain EU students and staff, as well as bid for EU funding. The university did not see “any positive opportunities from the UK leaving the EU,” the session found.
Health is a particular concern for the borough because of its world-class health services, the panel found. Professionals said the lack of time to plan “could have an impact on patient safety” if there was no deal, which would also have significant consequences for the supply of medicines. The impact on hospital staffing was also raised, with an analysis from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust finding a 63 per cent fall in net EU recruitment in 2016/17 financial year.
For EU citizens
Expert witnesses raised concerns for the borough’s sizeable Latin American population, particularly around Elephant and Castle, many of whom have EU passports. Concerns were raised about the vulnerability of some Latin American residents who have an uncertain immigration status and are unable to speak English.