In the week when the rest of Europe and the UK is working hard to try to secure a positive move forward to the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, Ards and North Down Borough Council has taken the bizarre decision not to take any steps to prepare for the outcome until March 2019!
Voting to ratify the minutes of the recent Regeneration Committee, the Council agreed to accept the TUV amendment that Council should not create any space to prepare for the changes that Brexit might bring about for local businesses and ratepayers before March 2019. An amendment that had been vehemently opposed by the Alliance Councillors on the Committee.
Even a last-minute effort by Alliance’s Alderman Alan McDowell and me to ask that Council officers at the very least provide a report on how Brexit might impact businesses in the Borough was voted down at the full Council meeting by a combined vote of the TUV, DUP and Ulster Unionists.
Alliance Councillors seem to be the only ones on this Council who understand that Brexit will affect every business and resident in our Borough.
It is incredible that Council officers have now been instructed by Councillors to ignore what is the most seismic challenge to our economy that we will undergo in a generation.
We know that local businesses are already considering various plans of action as the Brexit negotiations continue. March 2019 might be the date the UK leaves the EU, but we seem to be alone on the Council in our understanding that businesses of all sizes will have made their investment, employment and development decisions long before then.
We feel it is imperative that the Council has a full understanding of how local business reacts to the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
We know that many of our exporters are already considering various post-Brexit options, and as a Council we need to know how these will affect our Borough far in advance of the March 2019 deadline.
Perhaps they will feel this to be a great opportunity and will need more and better trained staff. In that case, we can work with our education partners to ensure we are reacting to those needs.
Equally they could be considering a move away from the Borough creating unemployment, and we would need to be aware of – and prepared for – that eventuality.
In other words, at the very time when Council officers need to engage closely with our business community, they are instead instructed by Councillors to ignore it and pretend Brexit is something that will happen to other people, but not businesses or residents here in Ards and North Down!
The lack of understanding of many of our Councillors about the seriousness of this issue is absolutely astounding.
This is not the end of this issue for us. The Alliance Councillors are united in their determination that our Borough will be ready to take advantage of any opportunities, and react to any negative impact of Brexit as and when we need to.
The only way for us as a Council to know how we can help local businesses is if we engage closely with them over the next 18 crucial months. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty on our part.