William Eichler 16 June 2016

Why local government should vote remain

William Eichler talks to Martin Whybrow, Green Party councillor at Kent County Councillor for Hythe, about why local government should vote to remain in the European Union.

Q: Why do you want to UK to stay in the EU?

AOverall, while the EU is flawed, the positives outweigh the down-sides of membership. A lot of the ills that are blamed on the EU are not of its making, while much good legislation has stemmed from here. We have much stronger workers' rights, better animal welfare, cleaner air and oceans, better protection for the environment, and greater equality and human rights as a result of EU legislation. I fear a bonfire of this type of legislation by the UK government if we come out. There is also the overall vision of the EU that makes members more outward looking, gives our citizens the opportunity to work and live in other EU countries, encourages cooperation and the exchange of ideas, and has helped to guarantee peace since its creation.

Q: What impact has the UK's EU membership had on local authorities?

A: The EU provides many of the targets that local authorities must seek to meet in areas such as public health, trading standards, waste reduction and recycling, air pollution etc, while we also benefit directly from EU funding for a wide range of projects (as reflected in the work of Kent County Council's Brussels office).

Q: What affect would leaving have on local authorities?

A: We would lose the EU-related funding and there is absolutely no guarantee, with this austerity-led government, that any of this money would be replaced. I would also fear for staffing levels in our local hospitals and the social care sector, among others. And the economic impact of an exit would also put even more strain on finances and services.

Q: What positive impacts could Brexit have at the local levels?

A: Sorry, I can't think of any. I would be pleased if it meant we avoided joining the potentially hugely damaging Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) but I believe that this is looking less and less likely to happen, with the distinct possibility that the UK would seek to do similar but bi-lateral agreements instead. I would also like us to be able to stop the export of live animals but, again, I am not convinced that coming out of the EU would guarantee that this would happen.

Q: How would Brexit affect the financial situation of councils?

A: See above, it would have a negative impact and we already have the chancellor threatening tax increases and public spending cuts over and above those planned should we leave Europe - it could be an ideal excuse for further ideological shrinking of local government.

Q: How might restrictions on immigration affect the make-up of the local government workforce?

A: As with so much of the economy, local government benefits from the skills and expertise of workers from other EU (and non-EU) countries. As stated above, large swathes of our health service and social services rely on those workers. And we know that the net impact of immigration is a positive one. I think restricting the ability to recruit from the EU would have a damaging impact.

Q: How would leaving the EU impact upon housing in the UK?

A: We don't have a housing crisis in the UK because of immigration; we have a housing crisis for a wide range of other reasons. Experts predict a slump in house building, aligned with an economic downturn, if we leave. And the building industry (from architects through to bricklayers) relies greatly on EU workers.

Q: How would leaving the EU impact upon education in the UK?

A: My daughter, under the Erasmus (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) programme, was able to spend a year in Lyons as part of her mathematics degree course. Many students (both UK and non-UK) benefit from such schemes and our education would be weaker without these arrangements. Under-funded further education could also see additional cuts.

Q: What should councils do to prepare for Brexit should it happen?

A: It would be a gradual exit and it largely depends on the timescales and nature of the resultant relationship. Many of the issues would be difficult to offset.

Click here to read why local government should vote for Brexit.

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