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Agenda item

Sheffield City Council Brexit Update

Report of the Executive Director of Resources



The Committee received a report of the Executive Director of Resources providing an update on the Council’s Brexit preparations to date, together with an overview of those issues/risks deemed as having the most potential significant impact on the City, and the mitigations developed to address these.  The report provided an overview and details with regard to the activity on the City Council Internal Working Group, the ongoing work with the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS) and the Community and Faith Sector.  The report identified the four main risk areas – impact on business, supply of medicines, supply of food and the EU Settlement Scheme.




In attendance for this item were Eugene Walker (Executive Director of Resources), Chris Lowry (Policy and Improvement Officer), Tom Sutton (Chamber of Commerce), Maddy Desforges (Voluntary Action Sheffield) and Yvonne Asquith (Business Growth Manager, City Growth).




Chris Lowry reported that the Authority, through working closely with the Chamber of Commerce and Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS), was in a good position to mitigate any potential risks/impact of Brexit.




Maddy Desforges referred to the work of VAS in terms of looking after the interests of a wide range of community and voluntary organisations, and specifically how the Service could support such organisations in the light of Brexit.




Tom Sutton stated that the Chamber of Commerce was working closely with businesses in the City in order to mitigate any specific elements of risk.  This involved individual sessions due to the varying business operations, and focussed on helping them to ensure movement of their goods was maintained.




Members of the Committee raised questions, and the following responses were provided:-




·                 Whilst the exact figure regarding the number of EU nationals who may be affected as part of their right to remain was not known, it was thought to be in the thousands.  The official figures were held by the Government and, through regional arrangements, and by working through the Local Resilience Forum, the Authority was hoping to obtain more accurate figures. There was information and advice on the Council’s Intranet for Council employees wishing to apply for UK Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme.  Feedback received by VAS had indicated that a number of people applying for EU settled status had found the process very difficult and time-consuming.




·       The Chamber of Commerce was well-placed to be able to advise and support businesses on a wide range of practical points, regardless of the outcome of Brexit.  As part of the support process, the Chamber had produced an information leaflet and had reviewed documentation on exports, which it would be happy to circulate to Members of the Committee.  As part of the Brexit checklist, the Chamber was asking businesses to look at their supply chains, with the aim of ensuring that, as far as possible, their goods would continue to move.  Whilst there were some things businesses could do in terms of mitigating any potential adverse effects of Brexit, it was too early to be able to provide any firm confirmation in terms of the actual effects.  The Council had used part of the Brexit preparations fund, made available by Government to all councils, to fund two International Trade Advisor posts (to be based in Sheffield Chamber of Commerce). These advisors would provide advice to businesses regarding any new trading requirements with the EU, and any opportunities that may exist in new markets post Brexit.




·                 Whilst it was difficult to predict how Sheffield would be affected by the cessation of EU-funded programmes after Brexit, it was apparent that any loss of funding would have an adverse effect on the community and voluntary sector.  There had already been a considerable level of lobbying by the Council, through the Core Cities UK Group regarding the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). The Government had previously made it clear that the Fund was to be the successor to, rather than a continuation of, EU structural funding. The Government’s published objective was to use the Fund to tackle inequalities between communities by raising productivity and reducing economic disparity between regions of the UK.




·                 Whilst the information was fairly basic due to the ongoing uncertainty, the Government had invested a considerable sum publicising the potential impact/risks of Brexit.  In terms of Council publicity, there was information on the website, both regarding the application process to remain in the UK and advice for businesses, with the latter including contact details for, and links to, the Chamber of Commerce.  Officers were also talking to VAS, as well as liaising with people and organisations who were able to disseminate information.




·                 Regarding the position of schools, the Council had received a letter from Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the School System, sent to academy trusts and local authorities regarding EU exit preparations for schools. The letter contained information and advice in the light of Brexit, which officers had followed up on.  Whilst there was still a school meals contract for the few remaining maintained schools in the City, checks of which had recently been undertaken, the Council was seeking advice from the Department for Education with regard to the food chain for academies, which the Council effectively had no control over.




·                 Whilst appreciating the fact that a number of businesses in the City were struggling, particularly in the retail sector, with the possibility that the position could get worse after Brexit, the Council, whilst being sympathetic, was not in a position to provide any assistance in terms of wholesale business rate reliefs.  Of the approximate 19,000 businesses in the City,  around 12,000 of them benefitted from some form of rate relief.  As part of the current Heart of the City development, a number of new retailers had been attracted to the City, resulting in additional business rates income.




·                 No specific work had been undertaken with regard to potential adverse effects on the viability of schools in the light of people having to leave the UK, as this issue had not been flagged as a potential risk. The Council had been focusing its attention on looking at the immediate risks.




·                 At present, there was no appetite in South Yorkshire to undertake an assessment of the likely economic impacts of Brexit. Sheffield City Region (SCR) had produced such an economic impact assessment during January 2019, and following conversations with colleagues with SCR and the other three South Yorkshire Local Authorities, it was considered that this still reflected the most accurate position currently available due to the ongoing uncertainties associated with Brexit.




·                 It was agreed that there was a need to carry on identifying the long and medium-term trends regarding the potential impact of Brexit on Sheffield and the wider region.  The City Council Internal Working Group would also remain in place, and would continue to assess the potential impact of Brexit on Council Services and the City’s residents.




·                 The Director of Public Health was working closely with the Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, who in turn, worked with local pharmacies, and there were plans to put monitoring arrangements in place in connection with the supply of medicines.




RESOLVED: That the Committee:-




(a)      notes the contents of the report now submitted, together with the comments now made and the responses to the questions raised; and




(b)      thanks Eugene Walker, Chris Lowry, Tom Sutton, Maddy Desforges and Yvonne Asquith for attending the meeting and responding to the questions raised.


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