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Brexit: what public bodies must do

December 4th 2017

Victoria Winckler looks at how public services in Wales should  get ready for life after Brexit.

Brexit is likely to have a significant impact on Wales’ public services as well as changing the environment in which they work afterwards. Yet our latest report, with Wales Public Services 2025, finds that most public bodies  have yet to prepare in any depth for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Partly this is because nobody knows what to prepare for.

Extraordinary uncertainty about the terms of the UK’s departure  means it’s impossible for public bodies to know what exactly they need to prepare for. Let’s take the NHS for example, with its 560 EU-qualified doctors. Will they all stay? Or will some leave – either because they want to or are required to. Will they be able to recruit doctors from elsewhere? Or will there be hundreds of unfilled vacancies – on top of the many that already exist?

But uncertainty should not mean inaction

Unless the Brexit  deal retains full membership of the single market, with free movement of people and adherence to EU legislation – and personally I wouldn’t bet on this – some change is inevitable. Our public bodies need to be planning for a range of scenarios. We found many public bodies unwilling to commit resources to what could well turn out to be a waste of time. What’s the point planning for a customs border at Holyhead if it comes to nothing?

So we’ve set an agenda for the next 12-18 months to help public bodies to move forward. And it is this.

There is a great deal more that the Welsh public sector could do to ensure it is prepared:

OK so there is uncertainty. But the broad areas of uncertainty are at least known, and much more could be done in preparation. This includes

  • Strengthening its evidence base so that public bodies have a better understanding of EU citizens in their workforce, their contracting with non-UK suppliers in the EU, and which regulations might change/
  • Systematically assessing risks and opportunities, so they know where to focus their efforts
  • Developing contingency and action plans to manage and mitigate the risks and grasp opportunities.

The Welsh Government could support public sector preparations

Although there’s quite a lot of activity, the communications channels didn’t seem to be quite working. We’ve suggested:

  • deeper and wider communication by the Welsh Government to umbrella bodies and from them to the wider sector
  • robust frameworks for public bodies to work within, so that there are, for example, common definitions and measures
  • supporting and encouraging innovative solutions e.g. to skills shortages or sudden shocks in trading
  • begin discussion about changes to repatriated legislation after Brexit.

Capacity should be increased

To address the lack of capacity and reluctance to commit resources to planning the Welsh Government could:

  • should seek additional resources from the UK government to enable Wales to prepare for Brexit. A Barnett share of the £3bn announced in the recent budget could give Wales around £170 million.
  • expect public bodies to prepare contingency plans as a matter of urgency.

Benjamin Franklin allegedly said ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ – it could not be more true of Brexit.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. This report is the second in a series looking at After Brexit

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