Public Sector Focus

30.08.17

An opportunity or a self-inflicted wound?

Source: PSE Aug/Sept 2017

A year after the UK voted to leave the EU and months since Article 50 was triggered, it’s still unclear what direction Brexit is going to take. PSE’s Josh Mines reports from the Public Sector Show about what the opportunities and consequences could be for the public sector post-Brexit.

Over a year on, and despite an ever-changing political climate that has seen Theresa May call and subsequently regret a snap election, one topic lurks ominously in the background.

Despite the government’s mixed messages about Brexit, it’s an issue that officials across the public sector are anxious to resolve and get some clarity over. In July, experts at Centre for Cities gave the stark warning that Brexit was set to hit the economy hard all over the country, and mostly in affluent southern cities. During a panel session at this year’s Public Sector Show it was clear that these kinds of reports have rattled leaders in the sector.

It was also obvious that the UK’s process of leaving the EU has been made even harder by the fact that there just isn’t any clear consensus on what direction Brexit will take.

In the short session, Brexit was described as both an “opportunity for workforce planning” and simultaneously a “self-inflicted wound”. From some quarters in local government, Brexit has certainly been seen as more of a hindrance than a help to the UK in 2017’s tumultuous political climate.

 

Uncertainty to wreak havoc with workforce

Cllr Peter John OBE, executive member for business skills and Brexit at London Councils, was clear in his message about Brexit’s impact on the workforce in the UK. “There are no opportunities for local government in London,” he said. “There are consequences which we shall deal with and clean up as best we can.

“What Brexit has created is uncertainty. Nowhere works at its best in those conditions. It has created uncertainty about our friends and neighbours who are EU nationals, uncertainty in our high streets, and in the housing market.

“In London’s construction sector, 30% of the workforce are EU nationals. We need 60,000 more workers in London and the south east just to keep up with demand. Approximately 15% of those working in the financial sector are EU nationals, a third of those in the tech sector are, 10% of the NHS and 12% of retail. And the government response has done nothing to reduce that uncertainty yet, especially with the status of EU nationals.”

This wasn’t a view shared by the entirety of the panel. Caroline Nugent, director of HR & OD at oneSource, London Boroughs of Havering & Newham, and president of the Public Services People Managers’ Association, said that Brexit could offer a great opportunity for workforce planning. However, she also warned that the public sector needed to act quickly to mitigate the effects of the UK leaving the EU.

“Some of the stuff we have to do is going to come around soon if we don’t act now,” Nugent explained. “Somehow we have to look at how we encourage young people into these sectors. There’s an opportunity for schools to look at other alternatives besides university.

“We have to drive and change the idea that pushes people to go to university instead of looking at other options. That means looking at apprenticeships and getting older workers back so they can reskill. It is estimated that 27% of EU nationals are looking at moving this year – which is not sustainable. We need to start planning for this.”

 

Devolution absolutely key

Predictably, devolution was brought up as an initiative that needed to be pushed more to prepare both local and central government for the challenges that will come about as a result of Brexit.

“The key opportunity presented by Brexit is around localism and devolution agendas, particularly with combined authorities, the new mayors and Local Enterprise Partnerships,” said Bev Hurley CBE, chair of the Institute of Economic Development.

“However, the challenge of the localism agenda is around skills deficits and leadership deficits at a local level. So, I think there is a great deal more to do to improve the capacity and capability of leadership – particularly around how we collaborate and overcome political differences.”

Director of the County Councils Network (CCN) Simon Edwards used particularly strong words when describing the progress that has been made so far in creating a dialogue between councils and Whitehall.

“It’s fair to say that after a year its very obvious that there’s no 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 over Brexit,” he argued.

However, Edwards also said that there were still many reasons for local authority figures to be hopeful that devolution could actually start to gain momentum.

“I’ve had discussions with ministers and senior civil servants and they have said that if we make noises and get our act together they may have to take notice of our views. “We have an uphill battle to make sure those issues that need to be raised, are raised,” he explained.

“Local government and the public sector has a really important role to play in identifying the place-based effect of Brexit that government will just not see.

“Devolution and decentralisation is absolutely key. The evaporation of powers from the EU cannot just sit in Whitehall; we are the most centralised democracy in the Western world and we cannot afford for that to continue.

“We need to secure and develop a replacement for EU structural funds to make sure that communities who rely on that do not fall of a cliff edge.”

Though there are some in the public sector who are trying to see the opportunities presented to the UK outside of the EU, it appears that the job of many in local government and the wider public sector will be in reducing the harm caused by Brexit over the next two years.

However, it is clear that there is some ground to make up before that happens, and now is the time for authorities to make the right noises and be prepared to weather what could be a torrential storm once the Brexit process is complete.

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Council leaders to unite in bid for £1.3bn growth deal

18/05/2018Council leaders to unite in bid for £1.3bn growth deal

Leaders of all six councils in the North of Wales have come together to bid for a £1.3bn boost in funding for the region. Anglesey, Gw... more >
Leicester armours parking meters after spike in break-ins

17/05/2018Leicester armours parking meters after spike in break-ins

Leicester City Council has resorted to armour-plating its parking meters to combat thieves. According to the council, there have already been 84... more >
Grenfell: review into combustable cladding falls short, LGA warns

17/05/2018Grenfell: review into combustable cladding falls short, LGA warns

The independent review of building regulations, conducted following the Grenfell tragedy, has stopped short of proposing a ban on flammable claddin... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

The complexities of Brexit and the hunt for exceptional data scientists

16/04/2018The complexities of Brexit and the hunt for exceptional data scientists

Christopher Gallagher, public sector – SAS, says it’s imperative that organisations have the most experienced data scientists at hand. The Civil Service is feeling immense Brexit stress. Making the right decisions, analysing the ‘best interests’ of the nation as a whole, as well as discrete segments of the populati... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

comment

The digital journey so far

08/05/2018The digital journey so far

Michael Sage, digital services group manager at Chelmsford City Council, outlines the authority’s journey towards becoming digitally indepe... more >
Equipping the cyber security gatekeepers

08/05/2018Equipping the cyber security gatekeepers

With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) just around the corner, cyber security is on the lips of the whole public sector – but P... more >
The hydrogen revolution

08/05/2018The hydrogen revolution

PSE’s Josh Mines takes a look at an innovative scheme in Sheffield that will see some of the first hydrogen-fuelled vans begin work in the ... more >
Energy efficiency: not just a matter of more money

30/04/2018Energy efficiency: not just a matter of more money

David Reilly, head of cities & regions at the Carbon Trust, reports on the findings from this year’s Low Carbon Cities Conference. ... more >

interviews

GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

03/04/2018GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

SPONSORED INTERVIEW PSE’s Josh Mines chats to Martin de Martini, CIO of Y Soft, about what the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)... more >
Data at the heart of digital transformation

03/04/2018Data at the heart of digital transformation

SPONSORED INTERVIEW Grant Caley, UK & Ireland chief technologist at NetApp, speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the benefits of movin... more >
Keeping London safe

05/03/2018Keeping London safe

Theo Blackwell, London’s first-ever chief digital officer (CDO), speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the role he plays in ensuring the... more >
BIM: Digitising the public sector

19/02/2018BIM: Digitising the public sector

PSE’s Josh Mines talks to Stephen Crompton, CTO at GroupBC, and Stuart Bell, the company’s sales and marketing director, about how Bu... more >