Brexit: local leadership on the front line

Martin Ellender Martin Ellender

Much attention has been paid to how big businesses are preparing for Brexit, including by restructuring their operations and moving assets and people across borders. There has been far less attention in the national media on how local public services are preparing, even though the impact for most citizens may be far more tangible.

Unlike most big businesses, local authorities do not have the option of upping sticks or radically shifting their focus. They have a statutory duty to provide essential local services and provide a safety net for the most vulnerable within their areas. They also have a direct financial stake in the health of their local economies. Whatever the impact of Brexit, local public services are going to be first responders.

Preparations for Brexit have been quietly intensifying in town halls across the country. We have been fortunate to work with a wide range of forward-thinking local partnerships to help them consider risks, opportunities and key actions. We recognise the difficulty of planning in what continues to be a highly volatile and uncertain context, but would urge all public sector bodies to embrace a pragmatic 'hope for the best and plan for the worst' approach, framing contingency plans around a 'No Deal' outcome.

We have found it helpful to focus on three key areas – public sector organisations themselves, key services and suppliers and finally the places they serve. Here’s a brief summary of the issues that are coming up:


  • Engaging non-EEA nationals within the workforce to ensure they understand their residency rights and are not receiving incorrect information from other sources
  • Loss of access to key EU databases on policing and trading standards and changes to data sharing arrangements
  • Uncertainty around continuation of EU funding beyond 2020 and the implementation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Services and suppliers

  • Engaging with key suppliers to assess their risk profiles and resilience
  • Dealing with the immediate strain on key services such as social care and trading standards
  • Potential disruption to live procurement activities and uncertainty around the national procurement rulebook post OJEU.


  • Considering scenarios for economic shock, the associated social impact in the short, medium and long-term and the potential impact on local authority financial resilience
  • Potential impacts on major local employers, key infrastructure investment programmes and transport improvements
  • Civil contingencies and providing reassurance and support to residents and businesses.

Of course there is always opportunity in a crisis. Many of the areas we are working with want to discuss with HM government how they can contribute to a successful departure from the EU in return for devolution of powers and budgets, while also marketing their local economies as open for business globally. Brexit has galvanised place-based partnerships, bringing out the best in local public service leaders as they work pragmatically together to develop a collective response on behalf of their communities and businesses.

For further information on how we can support your organisation or your partnership with preparations for Brexit, contact Martin Ellender.

Read our Brexit insight and guidance

Consider the potential impacts and opportunities it will create for your organisation