The potential loss of tourism and investment in Hastings have been identified as the ‘chief risks’ of a no-deal Brexit in a report by the borough council.
At a meeting of the council’s audit committee on Thursday (November 15), Hastings councillors considered a report laying out what may happen if no diplomatic agreement is reached before the UK leaves the European Union.
The report identifies a number of areas which could be at risk and suggests ways the council could mitigate them.
Introducing the report, the council’s director of operational services Simon Hubbard said: “I wrote this with colleagues some time ago and, I must admit, at the time I thought ‘well, it is not likely is it?’ But at the moment I think it is very hard to tell where the future lies.
“Obviously the area is a highly-political and as one of your officers I am not going there. But in terms of assessing a no deal to Hastings, I think we need to first look at our differences, how Hastings is not like the rest of the UK.”
In his report, Mr Hubbard highlighted several areas which may be affected by a no-deal Brexit, including: the town’s large tourism economy; its language schools (said to be worth £30m to the town’s economy); its fishing fleet; its care home industry; and its higher than average levels of poverty and ill health.
Mr Hubbard also spoke about Hastings Borough Council’s past successes in securing EU funding for economic, cultural and social inclusion projects – saying that replacement funding schemes may either prioritise other areas of the UK or aim to address other issues.
He also highlighted the potential risks of an economic downturn. They include: increased pressure on council services; pressure on local businesses; job losses; and delays to infrastructure projects, such as the extension of high speed rail to Hastings and the next stages of A21 improvements.
To mitigate these potential risks, the report suggests the council works with local partners to ensure it can react effectively. It also suggests working with language schools and other to continue attracting visitors to the town.
However, the report also acknowledges that the council’s ability to influence national policy is ‘very limited’.
Mr Hubbard said: “The council, because we are a small organisation, doesn’t fully understand the changes that might take place. Not just in the very short term but in the longer term.
“It is clear that Dover – as you would expect because they are where they are – have done some considerable thinking about this, but it may be that other local authorities need to consider that also.
“In doing this I have tried to examine the different issues but as we go forward, and the real situation becomes clearer, I think there will be a need for us to renew our position, not just alone but with other local authorities in East Sussex.”
Following the presentation, committee chairman John Rankin (Con. – Conquest) praised Mr Hubbard for ‘a very comprehensive report’.
He said: “I’m really pleased that, as an audit committee, we have this on record because I think it would have been remiss of us not to at least have looked at the effects of Brexit, because it is obviously a huge subject.”