The lack of clarity around the UK’s economic policy in the run up to Brexit should be addressed by the Government through ‘a clear plan for devolution’ that allows combined authorities to take a local lead, a top infrastructure firm has said.
In a new report - Where now for Combined Authorities? The Impact of the vote to leave the EU - Balfour Beatty has called on the Government to outline a plan for the extension of devolution deals to remaining areas that have so far been left behind.
Stating that ‘devolution is more important now that ever’, the report suggests that combined authorities ‘must be involved in negotiating the UK’s exit from the European Union on behalf of their local areas’.
Balfour Beatty regional director Mike Reade told Transport Network: ‘An evidence base and some objective targets and measurements are absolutely key [to devolution]. Whether they come from central government or from the devolved authorities is an interesting point.
‘Certainly in the conversations we are having there is a maturity around the conversations within the devolved authorities, where they are starting to understand their local economies better and understand the inter-dependencies better and starting to work out ways of setting objective targets and measuring that economic benefit, so I think we are already starting to see conversations in that space.’
‘It’s all about making wise investment decisions so you need to have some evidence base to back that up.’
Pointing to the risks of devolution, the report also states: ‘The downside of greater financial autonomy is that the connection between the council and its local economy is closer and more immediate – a benefit in successful times but increasingly challenging in difficult economic conditions.
‘The response has to be what we are already witnessing in some areas, an holistic review of local authorities income and expenditure, and innovative approaches including public private partnerships.
‘These emerging models will optimise public sector assets and secure private sector investment, to reduce costs and increase revenues across energy, waste, transport, accommodation and service provision. A keen focus on maximising local economic and social value associated with delivery of these works will enable the benefits to be fully realised.’
On the risks of Brexit, the report highlights skills and the movement of people as an issue.
‘Work will need to begin to diversify city economies that are heavily exposed to EU trade in physical goods. Combined authorities will need to work with their local businesses to understand the skills they need and to support people in the area to develop those skills and fill vacancies that may emerge should the UK no longer be able to access skilled workers via free movement.’