Brexit: is Lancashire losing out while government is distracted?

Lancashire's businesses have been scanning the horizon for potential Brexit impacts
Lancashire's businesses have been scanning the horizon for potential Brexit impacts
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Lancashire businesses are being forced to “slow down” because the government is so preoccupied with Brexit, a member of the county’s Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has said.

Board director Amanda Melton told a meeting of the growth body that Whitehall’s long-term budget-setting plans were also being affected, because so much civil service energy was being taken up by the on-going process of leaving the EU.

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“While all this Brexit stuff is happening, some of the departments have ground to a halt,” said Ms. Melton, who is principal of Nelson and Colne College.

“Some of the other important stuff, like the development of education strategies and things to be done in preparation for the comprehensive spending review are being negatively impacted.

“There is then a wider impact which is causing businesses and the education sector to actually slow down,” she added.

Figures published last year showed that the government had taken on an additional 14,000 civil servants in the 18 months to June 2018 – many of them in departments expected to require the most significant Brexit planning.

The board had been expecting an update on how the concerns of the county’s businesses were being addressed as Brexit day approaches. But Lancashire County Council’s legal director, Laura Sales, said the continuing uncertainty meant she could offer no “great clarity or enlightenment”.

Members heard that export businesses in the county remain concerned over the “lengthier” process which would be involved in sending goods to the EU in the event of a no-deal scenario. Other sectors are reportedly worried about how post-Brexit immigration changes could affect a “growing skills shortage”.

Miranda Barker, chair of the North West Regional Manufacturing Forum, called for banks to relax rules on cashflow for businesses to help them cope with Brexit-related challenges.

“Stockpiling and the diversion of business to other places [is putting] a huge pressure on business cash flow – it’s almost looking the same as we had at the end of the last recession,” she warned.

But the meeting did hear that the nuclear industry is now well-prepared for any Brexit outcome, having devised rules to replace current EU treaties on nuclear fuel production.

“There [has been] a huge amount of work with the regulator to put parallel arrangements in place – and they’re all ready,” Westinghouse managing director, Mick Gornall, said.