(Mr. D. Neill, Emergency Co-Ordination Officer, and Mr. D. Connolly, City Protection Manager, attended the meeting in connection with this item.)
The Strategic Director of City and Neighbourhood Services provided an overview of the following report:
“1.0 Purpose of Report or Summary of main Issues
The purpose of this report is to outline for Members work that is currently being undertaken in relation to the Council’s Brexit Day 1 preparedness.
Members are asked to note this update.
3.0 Main report
Members are reminded that that the previous Committee had been provided with regular updates on the work that is ongoing in relation to identifying potential Day 1 service implications in relation to Brexit. Members will be aware that there is ongoing uncertainty around the outcome and timings around the exit from the EU, therefore Officers are currently preparing for the possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario on 31st October and any disruption that may or may not occur in the period leading up to and after it.
Work previously undertaken
Members are advised that in the period prior to the potential exit on the 29th March the following actions were undertaken:
1) The Council’s critical services completed Brexit Resilience Measures templates to identify the potential impact that Brexit may have on service delivery over the six week period after exit from the EU and the necessary resilience measures that need to be taken before the exit date.
2) Responsible officers reviewed and updated their Business Continuity Plans ensuring that it deals with service delivery post Brexit, and have communicated it to relevant staff.
A process was also in place whereby emergency planning staff provided situational reporting and daily position statements to the Council’s senior management team on critical services. A process for internal situational reporting was developed and critical services were asked to email the report to the Emergency Co-ordination Centre (ECC) each morning in order to allow Emergency Planning to collate the information and escalate any emerging issues. Collated information was then sent to the reporting points on a daily basis and where appropriate forwarded to Chief Officers, Heads of Services, Corporate Communications and Elected Members.
Members are advised that this process went live w/c 25th March and reporting took place for several days, however due to the change of the exit date from 29th March and uncertainty around the timings of the exit, it was decided by the NICS that daily reporting was not required at this point and that the frequency of reporting would be kept under review as the situation evolves. Members should note that this period of reporting was a good test of the reporting arrangements and officers are confident that the process works and can be activated as required.
The Council’s critical services are currently refreshing the Brexit Resilience Measures templates that they had previously completed to take account of the planned exit date of 31st October and to also consider normal ‘winter pressures’. These templates will identify the potential impact that Brexit may have on service delivery over the six week period after exit from the EU and the necessary resilience measures that need to be taken before the exit date to ensure that the Council continues to deliver key services. Officers are currently scheduling an internal officer workshop for mid to end of September specifically with the purpose of updating / refreshing the templates, and considering wider implications based on the most up to date information we have.
Members should also note that emergency planning staff are working with partners and arrangements exist across Northern Ireland to respond to emergencies and ensure that the support provided to the public is co-ordinated. In Belfast the agencies use the Belfast Emergency Preparedness Group to undertake planning to enable this response.
Belfast Emergency Preparedness Group members will be meeting before and after EU Exit to ensure all agencies can raise concerns if these arise. Normal emergency planning arrangements will be available to respond to emergencies if required. These are the same processes employed for any large unexpected event that may impact on the city and, as a result, are already tried and tested. This may be as a result of a civil contingencies issue such as severe weather or if there is an EU Exit related issue which leads to a significant threat or significant cumulative impacts arising, which necessitate a locally co-ordinated response. The Emergency Co-ordination Centre in City Hall will be on standby to activate if required. Refresher training for staff who may be asked to work in the centre was undertaken in the period up to the previous exit date in March. The Council will establish an internal information hub in the period prior to the exit date and will maintain shared situational awareness across all Council departments/functions. This will include any potential business continuity issues, concerns which need escalated to central government or rising tide issues which could lead to an emergency activation being required.
Work has also been ongoing in several areas around preparations for Brexit including liaising with central government departments and working on civil contingency planning with other relevant partners. Central government departments are developing plans to prevent and mitigate any potential impacts of EU Exit. The Executive Office is leading this work across the NI Civil Service and is establishing co-ordination arrangements to ensure that any potential issues can be identified and addressed as quickly as possible. These arrangements will be established prior to EU Exit and continue until required but will be scaled up/down as needed. Belfast City Council works with a wide range of departments to deliver normal services. The Council will link with the central government co-ordination arrangements to discuss and escalate any issues which arise in relation to EU Exit.
As Members are aware the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) have developed a risk register that consists of 16 main council level risks that need to be considered in light of Brexit. Each risk has an associated outline action plan for councils to consider in preparing for the risk. The risk register also deals with possible impacts post Day 1 and to the wider Council area and not just the organisation. Officers are currently working on updating the risk register and continue to participate in SOLACE’s Brexit Task and Finish Group.
Food Safety and Port Health
Members are reminded that there are potential implications on food businesses and the Council’s Food Safety and Port Health Regulatory functions. For example, Brexit may affect local food producers/exporters and importers. Consequently, the Council’s Port Health Unit have been working closely with DEFRA, DAERA, the Food Standards Agency and local importers to develop and roll out a new UK IT system for the pre-notification of import of high risk food to replace the existing EU TRACES system which may no longer be available in the event of a no deal exit. We have also gathered and analysed data to estimate and prepare for additional checks that may be required for transited products (imported foods travelling through the EU destined for the UK).
In a no deal scenario every export consignment of animal origin destined for the EU may require certification to demonstrate it meets the necessary health requirements. Whilst this is primarily a DAERA responsibility, Council Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) may certify fish and eggs. There are currently ongoing discussions between SOLACE and DAERA around the option of Councils undertaking this work and DAERA are considering how this work may be funded. We have been assisting DAERA by contacting businesses to establish their certification requirements and developing procedures to enable businesses to apply to Councils for certification where possible. We have been working closely with DAERA and the FSA to support the arrangement and delivery of workshops for potentially affected businesses. We have been taking the opportunity to signpost businesses to government advice and to support them to understand the potential changes and how to prepare for a no deal Brexit. Guidance for the food industry has been provided on the Council’s website.
We are providing additional training for the Council’s EHOs (both inland and at the Port) on the new IT systems and processes and to ensure we have sufficient trained officers to
deliver the additional services required when the UK exits the EU.
Members are advised that Officers from Emergency Planning and Food Safety and Port Health Regulatory functions will be in attendance at this meeting to provide updates on the work that they are undertaking in relation to Brexit Day 1 Preparedness.
Financial and Resource Implications
There are no financial implications relating to this report but the work that is being undertaken to further define potential Day 1 impacts, risks and mitigations may have financial and resource implications and these will be reported to the relevant committees as required. It is likely that there will be direct costs associated with preparing for Brexit e.g. in relation to civil contingency planning and potential requirements for additional staff and where possible these will be claimed back from central government.
Members should note that the Council has not included an increase in its recurrent budgets because of the uncertainty around Brexit, however, if one-off costs are to be incurred these will be financed through Council’s general reserves.
Equality or Good Relations Implications/
Rural Needs Assessment
There are no implications relating to this report.
He stated that the term ‘Day One Readiness’ referred to the six weeks leading up to the UK’s official withdrawal date from the European Union and the six weeks afterwards. He advised that emergency arrangements and mechanisms would be put in place from 14th October. He pointed out that the Northern Ireland Hub would be in operation from this date which would comprise representatives from all of the central civic contingency groups, with Local Government and multi-agency partners reporting into it.
He tabled draft Brexit Resilience Templates which included resilience measures to deal with immediate-term potential risks of the 15 critical services of the Council. The document illustrated what work had been undertaken across the Council to prepare for an emergency. He advised that an internal workshop would take place with staff of the critical services and a report, encompassing the updated templates, submitted to the Committee in October for consideration.
The Emergency Co-Ordination Officer provided an overview of the activation of the emergency plan and outlined the work which had been undertaken internally and externally to ensure Day One Readiness, such as testing and updating of the emergency plan. He indicated that the Service had been working closely with the Council’s critical services and successful internal and external practice exercises had taken place. He highlighted that the Business Continuity Services and the Emergency Plan continued to be reviewed and ready to activate in October and the Emergency Co-ordination Centre would remain on standby throughout the period.
The City Protection Manager summarised the work of the Food Safety and Port Health Regulatory functions and highlighted the contingency arrangements that had been put in place, such as additional staff training, checks and regulations, together with mapping and tracing exercises. He highlighted that, in the short term, the Government had agreed that there would be no additional checks in relation to imported food coming from the EU, but this might change over time due to regulatory divergence. He suggested that there could be an increase of up to 50 per cent in the food checks in which the service had to carry out.
He advised that, as the Council would no longer be able to rely on EU database in relation to imported food trace checks, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had designed a new system for the UK. He pointed out that as Food Safety and Port Health Regulatory changes would impact a range of businesses, the Council had planned a range of stakeholder events to ensure Day One Preparedness.
During discussion, Members raised concerns in relation to the potential for a back-log of lorries at the Ports caused by additional checks, the lack of communication from Government in relation to the potential of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and highlighted the importance of the Council’s Contingency Plans.
The City Protection Manager confirmed that some wider customs issues were outside of the Council’s remit and the internal contingency plans were based on the services which the Council provided.
The Strategic Director of City and Neighbourhood Services advised that the Council would continue to engage with external bodies to ensure potential impacts on services would be mitigated.
During further discussion, Members raised the following concerns:
· The need for fortnightly Committee meetings to be kept up to date on the fast pace of change;
· Further engagement with various external bodies to keep well-informed of Brexit Readiness;
· The impact on the Council’s financial reserve, revenue estimates and rates;
· The legal status of EU nationals, freedom of movement and the requirements of the EU settlement scheme;
· The importance and necessity to review the internal draft Brexit Resilience Templates;
· Access to the Shared Prosperity Fund;
· Impact on businesses, low income families, food, medical supplies, cyber security, energy and transport prices, animal welfare, and the internal BACS system,
After discussion, the Committee:
I. noted the contents of the report and agreed to an additional meeting per month to prepare for contingency planning and Day One readiness and, accordingly, that the Brexit Committee would meet once a fortnight;
II. agreed that an updated report be submitted to a future meeting in relation to the legal status of EU nationals and the requirements of the EU settlement scheme;
III. agreed that the Brexit Resilience Templates be sent to the Committee once the internal workshop had been undertaken and the draft updated;
IV. agreed that a report be submitted to a future meeting in relation to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund;
V. agreed that the following be invited to attend a future meeting:
· Representatives from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, in relation to the potential shortage of medicines;
· Representative of the Department for Infrastructure, Roads Service, in relation to Port contingency plans;
· Update from the Director of Finance and Resources in relation to Brexit Readiness and effect on Revenue Estimates;
· Representative from the Executive Office and Head of the Civil Service in relation to Exports, Port Health and Decision Making Matters; and
· Representative from the Department for Communities, in relation to the impact on the unemployed and low income families.