Calderdale Council leader denies scaremonger jibes on Brexit

Calderdale Council Leader Tim Swift
Calderdale Council Leader Tim Swift

The Calderdale Council leader says the district is prepared as well as it can be for Brexit – but no-one should just dismiss concerns about it as “scaremongering”.

Thee Council’s Place Scrutiny Board is considering reports from officers charged with preparing for a possible no-deal Brexit, which indicate that local exporting businesses could be along those most seriously impacted in the country.

Council leader Tim Swift said events from October 31 were a key priority for the council but it had a track record of responding to difficulties as they arise, such as with flooding.

“It is a natural role of local government to work with other partners to respond to problems,” he said.

But he also warned people to be wary of just dismissing concerns as there were “unknown unknowns” to Brexit.

“When health authorities say they are worried we should not just dismiss that as ‘scaremongering’,” said Coun Swift.

So much of the country’s social infrastructure worked to capacity levels all the time, including ports and roads, he said.

Coun Swift gave a non-Brexit example of what knock-on effects might mean – the power cut which hit parts of the country three weeks ago only lasted for 90 minutes but disrupted rail travel for two days.

“It emphasises the fragility,” he said.

With 1,000s of vehicles using ports running at full capacity even short delays would have an effect, he believed.

“So much of what we do in this country really does work on a just-in-time basis.

“Our food on shelves today will have only been ordered two or three days ago,” said Coun Swift.

Calderdale’s Brexit Lead Officer Zohrah Zancudi outlined the council’s involvement at regional level and said guidance given to local authorities was to prepare and plan mitigation where possible for a “reasonable worst case scenario”.

“It’s not going to all happen on November 1 – the impact will be played out over a longer period of time,” she said.

Board chair Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) had told councillors this debate was not about people’s views on Brexit but how the council was preparing for certain scenarios.

Although no-one knew what would happen around October 31, which made it a very, very difficult task, all the council could do was complete the risk assessments and as far as possible officers were doing a very good job in doing that.

“It looks as if we are doing all we can do,” he said.

Coun Leigh, who works with businesses, said what Calderdale was doing compared very favourably with other West Yorkshire authorities like Wakefield and Leeds.

He had questioned some of the assumptions officers were making about what impact tariffs or the movement up or down of the pound would have on different types of businesses.

Coun Josh Fenton-Glynn (Lab, Calder) asked questions about the issues for exporters and possible impact on care homes which had staff members from EU countries, and Coun Sue Holdsworth (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) asked why Calderdale exporters would be potentially affected so seriously – Coun Leigh said it was because the borough had a lot of manufacturing businesses.

Coun Audrey Smith (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) said looking at the long term was also important, for example getting Calderdale businesses to supply what the community needed.