Whitehall must not hoard reclaimed EU powers, say council chiefs

Local Government Association says Brexit talks should not simply return legislative responsibilites straight to Westminster

By Jim Dunton

28 Jun 2016

Negotiations to return legal powers to the UK from the European Union should not be conducted on an “everything comes back to Whitehall” basis in the wake of last week’s referendum, local government leaders have warned.

The Local Government Association, which lobbies on behalf of hundreds of councils in England and Wales, said it was vital that legal powers were devolved from Brussels to local areas where that was the most appropriate place for them to rest.

However the cross-party grouping, which is led by Conservative peer Lord Gary Porter, insisted the government had to underwrite £5.3bn in EU regeneration funding already earmarked for distribution to local areas over the next four years.

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In a statement, the LGA conceded that it chosen to remain neutral during the referendum campaign because of  “a diversity of views” within its ranks. But it demanded an active role in the legal restructuring that would take place following the vote to leave.

“Councils in England need a seat around the table when decisions are taken over how to replace EU laws as part of the UK's exit negotiations,” it said. “It is vital that local government is part of the team.”

“EU laws and regulations impact on many council services, such as waste, employment, health and safety, consumer protection and trading and environmental standards.

“There cannot be an assumption that power over these services is simply transferred from Brussels to Westminster. 

“If services are delivered locally, then the power over how to run them should rest locally too.” 

Regarding regeneration funding, the LGA said there was a risk of “essential growth-boosting projects stalling and local economies across England being stifled” if the government did not guarantee anticipated funding streams.

Cornwall Council said it had received an average of £60m a year in EU regeneration funding over the past decade and had received pre-referendum assurances from the “Leave” campaign that the county would not be worse off in terms of investment as a result of a Brexit vote.

The authority’s leader, independent councillor John Pollard, said the authority would be “taking urgent steps to ensure that the UK government protects Cornwall’s position in any negotiations”. 

Residents in Cornwall voted by 56.5% to 43.5% to leave the European Union.

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