The Prime Minister’s announcement this week on his intention to renegotiate the terms of the country’s relationship with the EU is, of course, welcome. It should, however, also be seen as a major opportunity for local government to think through what it wants out of these discussions and to influence the UK’s negotiating position accordingly.
More than 50% of locally implemented legislation originates in the EU and will have a direct impact and cost to councils. Indeed, my own council is currently in the High Court as we speak disputing an EU interpretation that could potentially end up costing Westminster taxpayers’ millions each year.
It is therefore clear that there are certain local government policy areas where interference from a supra-national body such as the EU does more damage to local services and communities than good.
There are many other examples that I could highlight. All of us in local government will be only too aware of some of the frustrations around the current procurement regime much of which originates from Brussels. One can also think of some of the other directives in the past few years involving everything from fridges to batteries that have added additional burdens and operational costs to local government that, in turn, are passed to council taxpayers.
This is of course not to say that we should simply rush into creating a wish list without proper consideration – for instance, although heavy handed, many of the measures on the environmental side are actually well intentioned – it is their interpretation and resulting costs that needs to be examined. However, there is clearly an important principle that such decisions should be decided in this country – either at a local or national level.
Therefore in undertaking this important exercise, I see there being a number of areas and themes to focus on:
- Understanding local flexibility around the application of burdensome EU regulations and why this is not happening.
- EU imposed fines can now be passed on by central government to local authorities. We should look at how we could opt out of legislation that imposes such fines on local councils.
- Understand those environmental directives – including the ones mentioned above – and where these could be stopped, reduced or replaced with our own versions if required.
- Understanding the nature and scale of reporting duties – for example, only asking for data when it is necessary not as a default position – review reporting requirements for ERDF and other EU funded projects.
I would welcome input and ideas from other authorities on legislation, directives or other burdens imposed on local government originating from the EU that negatively affect our ability to deliver on what matters to local people and, crucially, to deliver value for money. We will then collate this list and accompanying rationale and send to colleagues in CLG, other central government departments, the PM’s office as well as making it publicly available.