The context is changing. Are we ready to be open with communities about Brexit?

Written by Alexis Krachai

I’m sorry but we need to talk about Brexit. Not the politics, not the issues around whether we stay in the Customs Union or Single Market. Plenty of ink is being spilled on those topics. Rather we need to talk about the impact Brexit will have on how we engage communities about the development of our built environment.

Before the EU referendum, local authorities around the country were already under a large amount of financial pressure. By 2020 the grant each Town Hall gets from Whitehall is due to be removed and replaced by the ability for local authorities to retain all of the business rates generated in their area. Essentially, local authorities will be on their own, with little government revenue funding support. Many of them will have a huge gap to fill to even get close to the resource levels they had prior to 2011, or even just a couple of years ago. This is a massive shift in how frontline services are funded. It will trigger the need to acknowledge that a new logistics park or office development will be even more critical to funding the services that every community relies on. Development can no longer just be seen about jobs and growth. It will have to be seen as the means of funding services that we all rely on.

Then came Brexit. One impact of the vote and our decision to leave is that we will no longer be able to access EU funds. Some will argue vigorously that this does not matter. The money we cannot access will be made up by saving the money we send to Brussels. I’m not brave enough to get involved in that debate but what is important is acknowledging how much of our built environment has been reliant on funding from European institutions.

Take for example, the European Investment Bank. This little known organisation granted loans worth €13.5 billion in the 18 months running up to the referendum. After that, the figure has dropped to just €3 billion. If you are interested in the details, then take a look at the research commissioned by the Local Government Association and the Institute for Government.

How does all of this relate to how we engage with communities? For us the answer is obvious. Effective communication is all about context. The clue is in our company name. If the context for a conversation with a community changes then so does the tone and tenor of the communication. Facts are important but so is acknowledging peoples’ perspectives and how those evolve over time.

The removal of the Revenue Support Grant and the imminent disappearance of EU funding is going to make local government resources stretch to breaking point. It will also mean that infrastructure, residential and commercial development will become even more important; not just to help grow the economy but to help keep the lights switched on in our care homes, community and sports centres.

Which local authorities and developers are going to be the first to be open and honest about the environment that is rapidly evolving and the impact it is going to have on every community across the UK?