South West ‘could suffer more than other regions’ after Brexit

26 Feb 18

The South West could be hit harder than other parts of England when the UK leaves the EU, according to panel members at a one-off Brexit discussion convened by CIPFA in Bristol.

High numbers of EU workers could be lost from industries in the region, which must get better at ‘fighting its own corner’, attendees at the event on Friday last week heard.

Kate Kennally, chief executive of Cornwall Council, pointed out the South West had a growing number of tech start-ups but it was not good at promoting its own industries.

“We have a big part of the UK that doesn’t have a big voice,” she said.

She added Cornwall voted leave because of “a sense of profound insecurities about public services” and that “this could be a moment where there needs to be a good deal of bravery”. 

Kennally also pointed out: “Exeter, Bristol, Plymouth are the cities most reliant on exporting to the EU.”

Nigel Costley, regional secretary of the trade union federation the TUC, said: “I don’t think we are well equipped to respond to [Brexit].

“I fear we are going to be the losers in the South West. I do not see us fighting our corner very well.”

Costley added the TUC would prioritise the protection of jobs and workers’ rights but that “parts of the South West [were] very vulnerable to a sudden shock that may come from [Brexit]”.

Matt Griffith, head of policy for not-for-profit company Business West, which helps businesses in the area grow, said the South West would be the area most affected by changes to exports.

He added: “The automotive sector and aerospace sector [in the region] have a high number of EU workers”.

Automotive manufacturers in the South West include Eberspacher, Goodridge Fluid Transfer Systems and Honda, according to the Automotive Council UK.

The South West ‘aerospace cluster’ – with aerospace companies and their supply chains based there - is reportedly worth more than £7bn and one of the largest in Europe.

Alan Greer, professor of public policy at the University of West England, also pointed out that “80% of slaughterhouse vets are EU nationals”.

He highlighted the difficulty in producing a unified position on public spending for a region as large and diverse as the South West.

Greer explained: “There is a tension between big South West cities such as Bristol and the region as a whole.”

Kennally said the South West “has got to be competitive” in bidding for migrant labour. She suggested some sort of “regional immigration allowances” might help the region.  

Labour suggested a regionalised immigration system at the start of last year, although deputy leader Tom Watson said this would allow higher immigration to London but tighter restrictions for other parts of the country.

Kennally added: “[The UK] shouldn’t have [an] immigration based on what is right for London”.

Julia Goldsworthy, chair of the panel and CIPFA’s Brexit Advisory Commission for Public Services, asked what devolution opportunities leaving the EU presented for the South West.

Kennally answered: “Local government is seeing this as being a huge area for making a play for devolution”.

The panel’s concerns over Whitehall-centric Brexit negotiations echoed those expressed by leaders of the UK’s largest cities last week, when they lead a delegation to Brussels to highlight the interests of local authorities in the talks.

CIPFA organised the event in Bristol to discuss the impact of Brext on public services in the South West. 

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