THE Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is often seen as a toothless talking shop, and certainly there are many councillors in Cosla and across Scotland who feel that on Brexit, they are simply not being listened to.
A pity, because Cosla and its member councils really have a lot to say about the effects – whether it is a hard or soft Brexit – leaving the EU will have on local authorities.
The following list comes from a Cosla briefing paper incorporated into an officials’ report to the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles Council.
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“We are concerned about the impact on capital projects and investment proposed by councils which would have or could have accessed EU funds.
“The non-replacement of transitional funding would have a devastating impact, not just on the provision of support for infrastructure and other developmental projects, but on projects and schemes which support the lives and prospects of individuals, often the more vulnerable, throughout our communities.
“EU funding on Skills and Employability for example, forms part of some Councils’ Workforce Strategy and, in current financial circumstances, it is difficult, to say the least, to see from where any replacement funding for such programmes would come.
“Projects seeking finance from the likes of the European Investment Bank (EIB) may face stiff competition from EU Members States, if our projects are not perceived to be as relevant to EU priorities, assuming we have continued access to such arrangements.
“Untangling ourselves from the EU and all the legislation and financial arrangements associated with it is going to take up a lot of time and energy in the civil service and in other public bodies; time which won’t be available for other work.
“The 22 per cent devaluation of the pound since last year might have a real effect on our costs, including fuels and building materials for the new social housing targets such as construction wood from Sweden. The value of contracts with overseas companies might also be affected.
“Changes to the single market arrangements that introduced barriers to trade as well as economic uncertainty and currency fluctuations could make Scottish council areas less attractive places in which to invest.
“Brexit may hamper efforts to attract investors to local authority projects (for example regeneration projects and energy related investment).”
That one sample from one report – there are others in the pipeline – shows the serious effect a hard Brexit could have on Scotland’s councils.
There are even fears for local democracy and communities in general.
Serafin Pazos-Vidal is the Head of the Brussels Office of Cosla. Writing in a personal capacity, he told the European Futures online publication: “Individual authorities and their national organisations have expressed deep concern on the impact that Brexit – as the most important constitutional change since devolution – might have on councils as democratically elected institutions.
“At the same time, community cohesion (ie the rights of EU nationals living in the UK), the impact of demographic decline due to potential immigration restrictions and ensuring the survival of certain industries (eg agriculture and food processing) are also key concerns.”
Most of all, councillors and officials are wondering where the replacement for EU funding and support will come from.
In the last four years alone the EU has assigned £127m to assist projects initiated by Scottish councils – £46m of this in the last financial year alone – out of a total of £780m for Scotland from EU structural and investment funds.
Cosla’s task group chaired by Orkney Councillor Stephen Hagan is overseeing work on Brexit. He feels councils are not being heard enough.
He told The National: “We are very keen to be involved as we are very much part of government, and we are very keen on subsidiarity so that decisions are made at the appropriate level.
“Among our biggest concerns is European funding and we just don’t know what way that is going to go, especially among the peripheral areas in our communities that have benefitted a lot from European funding.”