Report number: OAS/WS/21/003
[Councillor Paul Hopfensperger declared a local non-pecuniary interest as a small business owner in Bury St Edmunds who imports/exports to/from the EU.]
The Committee received report number OAS/WS/21/003, which set out some of the context from when UK voters voted to leave the European Union (EU) in June 2016, a summary of preparations and impacts including collaborative work across Suffolk and West Suffolk Council’s preparations.
The report was intended to enable the Committee to gain a better understanding of the implications of existing the EU for the council, partner organisations, residents and businesses in Suffolk and to understand how organisations were working together to ensure that information and advice was disseminated appropriately.
Since the report was published, there had been a change in legislation and the Director advised of the changes relating to paragraphs 1.3 and 1.4 in the report as follows:
Paragraph 1.3: Document checks that were intended to be introduced in April 2021, such as the Pre-notification for Products of Animal Origin (POAO) and the requirement for Export Health Certificates, would now come into force on 1 October 2021.
Paragraph 1.4: Physical checks on products of animal origin that were due to be introduced in July 2021 would now be introduced from 1 January 2022.
West Suffolk Council was working collaboratively with partners to be proactive and pragmatic in maximising possible opportunities and minimising potential risks following the UK’s exit from the EU. Consideration of Brexit implications were included in the council’s business planning and interactions with partners and providers and officers continue to monitor the full impacts as they emerge. Ongoing council preparations have included support and advice to businesses; review of data security; impacts on projects; supply chain; EU residency and housing; support to staff and communications.
One key sector in West Suffolk which was finding the new rules challenging was the horse racing industry. They had been doing their own lobbying to central government on VAT and border issues and checks around the movement of horses between the UK, Ireland and France, in particular as a historic tripartite agreement was not included in the final settlement.
The Director informed the Committee of a new fund for EU transition business support where smaller businesses could now apply for grants of up to £2,000 from the £20 million SME Brexit Support Fund, to help them adapt to new customs and tax rules when trading with the EU. The Fund aims to help businesses access practical support to ensure they can continue trading effectively with the EU. Businesses were eligible for grants if they import or export goods between Great Britain and the EU or move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Businesses that trade solely with the EU and were new to importing and exporting processes were particularly encouraged to apply.
The Committee scrutinised the report in detail and asked a number of questions to which comprehensive responses were provided. Discussions were held on the Free Port Status for Felixstowe and Harwich Ports; packages from the continent being opened and, in some cases, contents missing; and customers receiving customs bills from packages coming from the EU when they were bought from a UK website domain.
Councillor Paul Hopfensperger explained that the new trading arrangements with the EU had severely hampered trade and placed extra burdens on companies with reams of paperwork. The new paperwork requirements to sell products abroad had meant hours of extra work, including sending items to Northern Ireland. This was affecting people’s mental health and he questioned what help was available for people. In response the Director explained that many businesses from a range of sectors had been impacted by the changes. Support was on offer which provided advice on all the rules and regulations. Partners across Suffolk were also looking at a post-Covid, post-Brexit recovery plan to address issues such as mental health as well as what future trading might look like.
In response to questions raised regarding data security and whether any of the recent IT attacks had been Brexit related, and whether data would be more secure if it was only dealt with by UK based providers and how was data securely evaluated. Officers explained that the IT team frequently dealt with IT attacks from all over the world. However, officers agreed to provide members with written responses.
In response to a question raised relating to how many EU nationals had left West Suffolk to return home due to Brexit and the associated impact, officers did not believe this information was available but agreed to investigate and provide members with a written response.
Councillor Paul Hopfensperger informed the Committee that from 1 January 2021 UK companies could no longer use a EU website domain (.eu), but anyone could use a “.co.uk” domain. In response officers explained that this had not been raised as an issue and agreed to look into this further, and would provide members with a written response.
There being no decision required, the Committee noted the contents of the report.