Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) is under prepared for a no-deal Brexit according to the country's largest union, UNISON.
BCCs 'Brexit Preparedness' document, which is available to the general public on the council's website, raises a number of concerns.
The document is dated 10/12/18, meaning it is at least eight months old. Since then, the EU Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected by Parliament, completely changing the landscape of what Brexit will mean. It also still gives 29 March as the date that we are leaving the European Union, which of course has long since passed.
Under the heading 'Local Government Resilience', it states:
"These are financially challenging times for Local Government as a sector and especially for authorities which have responsibility for Social Care provision. Funding shortfalls in both adult’s and children’s social care should be addressed by central government..."
The UK's largest union, UNISON, has seen the document and their regional organiser Emma Jenkinson provided the following comments:
“Our public services have already faced a decade of cuts that have left them stretched to breaking point. There’s simply no capacity in the system to ‘put some extra aside’ for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
“Any reduction in council funding at this point will hit the most vulnerable hardest and inevitably mean deeper and more swingeing cuts to services. Which means the possibility of no-deal is a frightening prospect for anyone who works in public services and for everyone who relies on their local council.
“Bucks County Council is far from alone in being under prepared for the seismic shock of a no-deal Brexit – how could they be after a decade of austerity and cuts?”
The apparent total reliance on central government is particularly jarring in light of the fact that it's far from clear what plans they have in place. Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, told us:
“With the strong possibility of a no-deal Brexit, we don’t think the level of risk government is taking with children’s health, safety and education is appropriate.
“Government must say now what extra measures it will add to contingency plans to protect those children who have least access in their lives to hot, filling, fresh and healthy food.”
The day after the referendum, on 24 June 2016, the leader of BCC, Martin Tett told this paper:
“It feels exciting and optimistic. I’m really excited for this country.”
A week later, he said:
“I think there is a mindset among European officials to penalise Britain for leaving, although I don't think that will carry as soon as the top table politicians go over there.
"It is a period of uncertainty as we withdraw but I certainly believe that the council here will be doing the best to support our businesses through the next couple of years.”
We think that the people of Aylesbury Vale deserve greater assurances than what amounts to jingoism and statements of support for the business sector, particularly in relation to the supply of food to schools, hospitals, care homes and prisons, including the maintenance of nutritional standards.
A recently leaked government paper, Operation Yellowhammer, outlines the worst case scenarios surrounding a no-deal Brexit.
The most alarming part of the report warns of a risk of fresh food supplies decreasing and a rise in food prices, both of which would hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
Labour councillor Robin Stuchbury told us:
“To the best of my knowledge, a no-deal Brexit has never been a single item of discussion either during my period on the county council or now as a district councillor, and it has never been a standalone agenda item by elected members of the committee.”
We asked BCC for comment and deputy leader Mark Shaw responded:
"Buckinghamshire County Council is continuously reviewing its business continuity plans for Brexit, including the minimisation of any effect on services in the event of a 'no deal' scenario. Work on this is coordinated by a 'task and finish group' made up of representatives from both the council's own services and from the district councils, who come together regularly to ensure that plans are kept up to date.
"As part of the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum, Buckinghamshire County Council also works with other local government, health and emergency services in the region to coordinate a suitable response in the event of a range of possible adverse situations and to ensure continuity of services to the local community."
The UK is set to leave the European Union on 31 October 2019 – just 10 weeks away. Currently there is no withdrawal agreement in place.