In the 2016 Referendum, the people of Kent voted decisively by 59% to 41% to leave the European Union. Kent and Medway are now at the forefront of the debate on the opportunities and changes that lie ahead for the UK, given their close ties with the European continent.
In fact, Brexit could spell success for the region, offering Kent and Medway the opportunity to gain financially and improve services for the benefit of all its residents, according to a new report produced by the University’s Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS), but only if its specific regional needs are heard by the Government.
The report, entitled Kent and Medway: Making a Success of Brexit – A Sectoral Appraisal, looks at the county’s particular needs across a range of key sectors, including business and commerce, agriculture, tourism, policing and security, higher education, healthcare, the environment and local government. The report was grounded upon insights provided by Kent and Medway sectoral leaders and stakeholders during meetings in May and September 2016, where open and often intense discussions between industry and public sector officials contributed to the findings and strategic direction of the report.
Authored by Professor Amelia Hadfield, Director of CEFEUS, and Professor Mark Hammond, Visiting Professor at the University, the report examines both the challenges and the opportunities which may occur under Brexit. It concludes by offering key sector-specific methods by which the UK Government could work with a range of leaders in Kent and Medway to promote the appropriate conditions to ensure Brexit can be successful for communities and businesses alike.
Professor Hadfield explains: "Our economic prosperity, governance structures and social cohesion are fundamentally connected. The strategies and policies we need to look at adopting to make Brexit a success for the county need an inclusive approach which recognises people’s individual needs and responds to the opportunities of Brexit in an equitable way.
"For the report, we were intent on gathering together as many regional voices as possible. A variety of individuals, local organisations, businesses and government have worked with us since before the EU Referendum, helping us to identify the potential challenges that business, communities and individuals could face from Brexit, alongside the possible opportunities it could bring. As well as simply offering a method for genuine debate on all aspects of Brexit, the report is offered as a useful first step for national and regional decision-makers as they define the demands of Brexit as it applies to Kent and Medway."
The report highlights three key themes affecting all sectors: money, movement and making rules. All three impact differently on Kent. Professor Hadfield continues: "Although the UK has been a net contributor to the EU budget, there have been important areas where funding has come back to Kent in both visible and viable ways. Principally, this includes farmers and growers under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); income which amounted to about £45million in 2015/16 and upon which they are heavily dependent. Although the Autumn Statement announced that the Government will match the current level of agricultural funding derived from the CAP until 2020, the region’s farmers are asking for continued funding until a new modern UK-focused subsidy can be put into place.
"However, it’s not just our farmers that receive EU funding. Strategic projects supporting tourism, environmental protection, local regeneration and businesses also currently benefit from EU support. Business and commerce would like to see the Government commit to support funding for robust and sustainable business networks and invest in services provided for by the Department for International Trade – thereby, reducing the current uncertainty for our local businesses and other key sectors, and ensuring we are able to seize the opportunities that arise.
"There are also concerns surrounding the impact of freedom of movement. Historically, Kent has been in the front lines in terms of the movement of not only goods from the continent, but also of people either into permanent professional roles or as seasonal workers.
"Local businesses and organisations, such as our farmers, local healthcare providers and universities, are asking the Government to resolve the status of current EU workers in Kent – to understand how a new system can best support workers equitably in different sectors and also manage the future flow of people into and through the county. Our farmers wish to see the reintroduction of a modern seasonal agricultural works scheme to support their industry while controlling migration. Healthcare providers would like to see the Government take steps now to clarify and establish a new regime for managing the migration of EU staff working in health and social care, specifically focusing on the skills and capacity needed in the sector to ensure its continuity and delivery of services."
Professor Hadfield concludes: "Brexit is the most complex, multilevel issue in contemporary British politics. The Brexit agenda is becoming increasingly animated in trying to identify local, national and international interests. What’s needed at this point, therefore, is open and honest debate – the key to understanding both the potential impact risks and the authentic opportunities that political, economic and social changes hold for our county. We hope that this regional, sector-specific method can be used as an example for other counties to help them identify the opportunities Brexit could bring to ensure that their residents are also fully supported for their specific and local challenges ahead."
In an interview with BBC Radio Kent in December, Professor Hadfield stated that the UK Government’s approach to Brexit has "been very top down at this point… what’s missing is a genuinely bottom-up, localised version of possible ways forward". This view was echoed by CEFEUS Graduate Coordinator and recent Politics graduate, Jack Brooks: "I think what made the report special was our incorporation of a broad range of views from stakeholders across Kent, and our analysis of the factors that threaded them all together. This allowed us to view potential Brexit impacts that may cut across Kent as a whole, instead of compartmentalising specific impacts with specific sectors."
The report was supported by Helen Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, who hosted the report’s launch on the 12 December in Portcullis House, Palace of Westminster. Helen stated:
"I welcome the initiative taken by Dr Hadfield and Professor Hammond at Canterbury Christ Church University and others involved in this report. There are many decisions to be made during the negotiations and no doubt there will be trade-offs. Their work will help us go beyond the informal gathering of opinions, to a more thorough understanding of how Kent may be affected and what we should argue for."
The Westminster launch brought together many of the stakeholders, MPs and various Parliamentary committee clerks; indicating both a real appetite for sector-inclusive, county-specific reports of this kind, and a general sense to continue the work in terms of identifying the individual needs and general requirements of key sectors and stakeholders during the coming months.
The full report can be downloaded from the CEFEUS webpages.