MY VIEW - Brexit, no big deal!

Monday 28 October 2019

Although 31 October is no longer a no-deal deadline, while Government debates a Brexit deal the threat remains, so we prepare for the worst.

In August 2019 I was nominated as Brexit Risk Manager of Somerset County Council (SCC).

This was prompted by the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) letter to all council chief executives outlining the actions they were expected to take to mitigate the risks of a no-deal Brexit.

Included in the Brexit team is a corporate director as Brexit lead officer (BLO), a Brexit team manager, Brexit communications manager, a senior projects and change officer, and me.

We previously held a risk and impacts session with SCC senior managers in spring, so we had a list of risks and potential impacts to revisit. It was decided to use the existing networks for emergency planning and to work in collaboration with our district councils to compile a list of risks common to all.

A one-day workshop with our district colleagues and members representing the voluntary and community sectors identified impacts and mitigations, grouping them under the categories of: food, fuel, service demand, and health & wellbeing.

We spent the afternoon discussing the important impact on the local economy.

Somerset is a rural county that relies on agriculture, with a high percentage of SMEs, many in the food and drink industry.

Our growing urban areas are increasing in business diversity, which brings the added vulnerability of supply chains and the effects of a changing market, compounded with potential inflation increases.

Working with the Somerset Brexit leads group it was decided that SCC would lead on risk management, and so began a job for me. To start with we agreed that using a simplified matrix of high, medium and low was the easiest way of having a RAG rating that we all understood. Although we all use a five x five matrix in each of our authorities, there the similarity ends.

I identified nine categories that align with those used by the local resilience forum and the Government document Yellowhammer. This enabled grouping of risks from across the five councils into a Somerset Shared Risk Register.

The top risks are:

  • Capacity/workforce
  • Local business economy
  • Finance and funding of councils – including EU grant funding
  • Funding for response.

Over the past month I have been talking regularly with the BLOs with updates to the risk register and taking latest guidance from the many communications we receive to add to mitigation.

We are also working to identify community and voluntary groups that may have a part to play in helping the Council. There are early warning signs that residents and businesses in Somerset may struggle with the basics of daily life like food, fuel and heating.

Many of our rural communities are reliant on oil for their heating; we even have a couple of rural libraries that use it.

I have also briefed 84 school head teachers on the areas they may wish to seek assurance on, like providers of school meals and food and those in receipt of EU funding (Erasmus+). School trips, passports and health insurance are other school concerns.

The Brexit communications manager is working with the districts to ensure messages released to the local media or via social media are consistent with the information and guidance provided by Government.

One of the biggest risks to the Brexit team is reading and cascading the amount of information that arrives via email all day, every day!

SCC is not treating Brexit as a business continuity incident, but we have taken the opportunity to remind managers that going into winter it is now a good time to make sure their business continuity plans are up-to-date. Winter brings additional pressures on capacity.

We have a project plan and report to the SCC senior leadership team weekly, with a weekly report going to MHCLG. We take part in numerous teleconferences, including with the Avon and Somerset Local Resilience Forum (ASLRF) and hold regular meetings with Brexit leads in Somerset and the Brexit Resilience and Opportunities Group. There are also regular catch-up meetings with key SCC service managers and a weekly assurance questionnaire that is sent to all strategic managers.

We hold meetings with voluntary and community groups to identify a set of indicators. These will give us a warning if the wellbeing of residents, whether they are already known to us or not, is deteriorating.

One area of concern is the availability of food banks and who in the voluntary sector may be able to assist if demand increases.

All this work is based on a ‘just in case/what if’ agenda. It is still in the balance which way Brexit will go, but the Team’s work means we can assure the senior leadership team at SCC there are plans for the next stage, whatever and whenever that may be.

Pam Pursley, Risk Manager, Somerset County Council Brexit Team and ALARM Board Director

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