Brexit rewards balanced by risk in Norfolk
With Brexit negotiations at an apparent deadlock and just six months until Britain is set to leave the European Union, just how our region will be impacted remains unclear.
But newly-released documents have revealed some of the ways decision-makers in the county see the future looking.
Exactly what post-Brexit Britain will look like can not conclusively be said.
However, ongoing studies and assessments carried out by Norfolk County Council aim to provide some answers.
Council bosses have raised concerns that the county’s trade economy could be hit by a shortage of migrant labour and have recommended the government set up a fund to mitigate for potential loss of funding from the EU.
However, County Hall has also identified some opportunities leaving the EU could present, such as encouraging the farming industry to seek new innovation.
In November 2017, council officers responded to a central government consultation into how Brexit could impact the county.
The report raised four main issues: EU funding, trade, migrant workers and agriculture.
On funding, it said Norfolk and Suffolk had accessed £1.9 billion of EU funding between them since 2007, adding: “Loss of access to this level of funding would have a significant impact on the two counties, which would not traditionally be seen as areas of need.”
On trade, the paper said the EU accounted for more than half of Norfolk’s exports and was worth more than all exports to the rest of the world combined.
It said: “In terms of imports, it is also the largest source for Norfolk. EU trade relations are therefore vital to Norfolk.”
On migrant workers, it said: “Access to skills, either in low skill employment or high skilled professions is becoming increasingly challenging, as migrant workers choose other EU countries because of the uncertainty over Brexit or the fall in the value of the pound makes the UK less attractive.”
Relating to agriculture, it added: “Direct subsidy represents around 57pc of average farm incomes. The risks of Brexit could be very significant.”
It also warned about the threat of rural unemployment related to subsidy losses and the threat of potential tariffs on imports.
But it also said: “There are opportunities in potential for new markets and removal of subsidies will encourage and promote a technological step in UK farming – as happened in New Zealand.”
The county council also responded to a call for evidence from the Local Government Association – which was launched in February this year.
It recommended that a fund be set up and localised to mitigate any additional cost caused by exiting the EU.
On exports, the authority said: “Additional charges for exports would immediately serve to reduce their competitiveness and UK firms focussed on exporting will be weakened. Unless support is provided to mitigate this could result in considerable job losses and businesses could face risks.”
On the local work force, the authority reported: “In 2016 the total EU population working in Norfolk was 41,195, across 11 sectors. In the long-term, it is highly likely that migration from the EU will drop.
“It has been widely stated the UK needs to increase the amount of food it processes from local produce, whereas the loss of migrant labour could see a reduction of output or even closures if operations become unviable.
“Norfolk businesses need reassurance that mechanisms will be found to maintain the flow of migrant labour to key areas of local shortfall, both lower and higher skilled roles.”
The most recent report made available was published in June under the title of ‘Getting Norfolk ready for Brexit’.
It warned that “Loss of access to a single market is likely to cause shortages in building materials, risking increased cost of construction and delivery.”
On tourism, it said the visitor economy “is most exposed to the restriction of labour. This sector employs a high number of EU migrants to plug domestic skill shortages in hard-to-fill vacancies.”
The next piece of work the council plans to publish is a risk register, which will be updated soon.
A council spokesman said: “We have commissioned a wide range of activities, both on our own and with partners and will continue to support people and businesses over the complex issues surrounding Brexit.”