St Helens is as “prepared as it possibly can be” for a no-deal Brexit, a senior councillor has said.
A report outlining St Helens Council’s no-deal Brexit preparations was discussed by cabinet on Wednesday.
The report outlines several scenarios where council services may be affected by a no-deal Brexit and what mitigations it has put in place.
The current deadline for leaving the EU is October 31.
One of the potential impacts of leaving the EU without a deal, according to the report, is fuel shortages and price increases.
It says priority needs to be given to the workforce who provide more “critical services”, such as those supporting the most vulnerable residents.
Kate Groucutt, cabinet member for corporate services, estates and communication, said there remains “great uncertainty” about the impact of a no-deal Brexit, with many of the impacts felt outside of the council.
She said the council have more information about these impacts than it did when it complied the report following the publication of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer report.
The government was forced by MPs to publish the Yellowhammer document earlier this month.
The document, which had leaked to The Sunday Times weeks earlier, originally stated that it set out the “base case” for leaving the EU without a deal.
However, the version that was published by the government had been changed to “worst-case scenario”.
Coun Groucutt said: “This document included many things that will be of great concern to St Helens residents.
“And across the political spectrum for all but the most dogmatic, hard Brexiteers, there is huge concern about a no-deal Brexit on the health and wellbeing of our country.”
Some of the potential impacts in the Yellowhammer report include “significant” electricity price increases and a reduction in the availability and choice of food and price increases.
Other potential impacts include disruption to health care arrangements and an increase in inflation, which could impact social care providers with increased staff and supply costs that could lead to supply failure within six months.
Coun Groucutt said these are “huge implications”, which will affect the whole of society.
She said the council’s own no-deal preparation work has been informed by intelligence from the government and from discussions with colleagues across the Merseyside Resilience Forum
The areas identified where there may be the biggest impact are in relation to potential fuel shortages, restrictions of fresh food and possible impacts on the council’s workforce.
Potential food price increased could have an adverse effect on foodbanks and its users, the report says, as increased prices may reduce food donations while at increasing demand on their services.
Coun Groucutt said there may also be an impact on adult social care, children’s services and schools.
The report says a fuel plan is already in place for managing potential fuel disruption, which will be reviewed and updated.
Additional funding will be earmarked for council-funded adult social care providers in the event of general food and fuel price increases.
Coun Groucutt said the £315,000 the council expects to receive from government to prepare for Brexit will be used to protect front-line services.
“Officers have prepared a robust action plan to ensure we’re as prepared as possible for a no-deal EU exit,” Coun Groucutt said.
“This action plan is continually being updated.
“For example, since this report was written, the position on fuel has changed, with a bigger concern about the availability of diesel.
“We’re also working with partners to ensure their own business continuity plans are well developed.”
Coun Groucutt said there are “too many unknowns” at this stage for anyone to know the actual of a no-deal Brexit.
However, but stressed that it is important the council understand the potential scenarios so it can plan effectively and put mitigating actions in place where possible.
“This is the right thing to do and it’s what residents would expect of us,” Coun Groucutt said.
“We therefore saw no reason why we should attempt to keep these plans secret like the government did.”
Coun Lynn Clark, cabinet member for environmental services, said the report made for “harrowing listening”.
West Park councillor Marlene Quinn, cabinet member for adult social care, said she was worried about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the most vulnerable, particularly during the coming winter.
“It’s very, very frightening,” Coun Quinn said. “For our most vulnerable, it must be terrifying because I’m worried about it and I’ll be able to get about one way or another.”
Council leader David Baines said it was “obscene” that councillors were even discussing leaving the EU without a deal, which “nobody voted for”.
Coun Baines said: “Foodbank usage is rising and has been high for a number of years, families continue to suffer food poverty.
“We were running holiday hunger clubs across the borough in the summer to make sure hundreds of our children actually had a decent meal.
“Inequality is rising. We’ve suffered years of underinvestment in public services.
“And I understand all of those things I’ve just mentioned are probably reasons why some people voted leave because they had the opportunity, they thought, to give the establishment a kicking and try and make things better for left-behind towns like ours.
“But I don’t believe anybody voted leave to make those things worse and that’s what no-deal would do – it would make those things works”
Coun Baines said it will be communities like St Helens who will “suffer the consequences” of a no-deal Brexit.
“It’s a policy that absolutely nobody voted for,” Coun Baines said.
“The official Leave campaign made it perfectly clear in the referendum there would be a deal.
“No-deal was not mentioned. Nobody voted for this.
“It’s reassuring reading the report that officers are doing a good job of mitigating the risks but it’s a discussion, a debate that shouldn’t even be happening.”