Tower Hamlets establishes Brexit Commission to seek expert evidence

Mayor Biggs and Cllr Ali 01

Mayor John Biggs and incoming Brexit Commission Chair, Cllr Amina Ali

A Brexit Commission is to be set up in Tower Hamlets as the council and its partners step up preparations for the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The borough sits at the heart of London’s economy, straddling Canary Wharf and the City Fringe.

It is the third largest contributor to the UK economy, responsible for as much as £12billion in tax revenue each year.

More than one in seven residents in our borough, some 41,000 people, are from the remaining 27 EU states. They play a valued role in one of the country’s most diverse and inclusive communities.

John Biggs, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, announced the establishment of the Commission at a meeting of the council’s Cabinet on Wednesday, July 25.

Mayor Biggs said: “Brexit is the most significant change to impact on our country in a generation.

“But since the referendum in 2016, the debate has too often been characterised by uncertainty, leaving our residents and our business community struggling to plan.

“As a council we will work with our partners to fill that information gap. This commission will bring together experts in the fields of economics, civil society and public services as well as listening to our residents’ concerns.

“It will examine what impact Brexit will have on Tower Hamlets and what we can do to support our community”.

Businesses of all sizes operating in global markets with international supply chains have established a base in Tower Hamlets.

In Canary Wharf alone, each day 12,000 men and women work in 37 office buildings alongside 300 shops, cafes and restaurants.

But the borough’s business community is not just characterised by the big names.

Small and medium sized enterprises are at the heart of our economy with almost 99 per cent of the 16,800 firms based here employing fewer than 250 people.

Initial indications are that Brexit will place particular pressure on companies working in the financial, real estate, administrative services, distribution, hospitality, transport and communications sectors as they are the most reliant on an EU workforce.  

Communities in Tower Hamlets have benefited from significant EU funding in recent years through the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.

The borough currently receives £2.6 million towards initiatives to improve the local economy, development, infrastructure, employment and training.

The main aim and objective of the Brexit Commission will be to examine the impact that Brexit will have on the local economy, its civil society and local public services.

It will consider how statutory partners, local businesses, residents and community groups can work together to minimise any negative impact on the borough, while taking advantage of potential opportunities.

The Commission will be chaired by Cllr Amina Ali, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts and Brexit.

Cllr Ali added: “The tens of thousands of EU citizens that have made their home and livelihoods in our borough deserve our reassurance and the many businesses based here need our support to plan properly. 

“I look forward to taking part in the important work of the commission.

“By bringing together experience and expertise from a range of sectors we will be better placed to absorb the impact of Brexit on our borough and to benefit from any opportunities that our new relationship with the EU presents.”

Cllr Ali will be joined by Cllr Mohammed Pappu, the Scrutiny Lead for Governance, alongside six independent commissioners.

The commissioners will be appointed from senior positions in fields including business, the voluntary sector, statutory bodies, health and education. Council officers are in discussions with prospective members of the panel with a final line-up due to be announced within weeks.

The experienced panel will seek contributions from across the borough, including from members of the public.

Formal evidence will be taken from subject matter experts at a series of hearings set to take place in September and October.

The evidence-gathering process will inform the commission’s deliberations, leading to a formal report due for publication in January 2019.

It will offer a detailed assessment of the local picture related to Brexit, providing the most comprehensive understanding yet of the likely impact.

The report will form the basis for a lobbying and outreach effort aimed at supporting the work of the GLA, the Local Government Association, London Councils and the borough’s MPs.

When complete, the report will represent one of the most significant pieces of research into the likely impact of Brexit at a local level in East London.

As Parliament continues to scrutinise the Government’s plans for leaving the European Union, the council will stand ready to contribute to that work by sharing the lessons learnt during the evidence gathering and report writing process.

With a number of possible exit scenarios still a possibility, the commission will also be expected to shape the development of high level contingency plans to manage key risks to the borough’s economy, civil society and public services.

In addition to this comprehensive programme of work, the commission will also oversee a parallel effort aimed at offering comfort and support to the thousands of EU27 citizens living in Tower Hamlets.

Council officers are working closely with organisations including the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the Tower Hamlets Law Centre and specialist immigration charities to deliver a series of events in the community. Details will be released soon.

Posted on Wednesday 25th July 2018