On the brink of Brexit… Sussex in dilemma

Out of all the divisiveness and vitriol we have suffered over the past couple of years there is one thing we can surely all agree on, no matter which way we voted. It’s been a total shambles.

At the time of writing, Parliament hadn’t voted on Theresa May’s proposal. If you’re reading this before December 11, you won’t know either.

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton (the only MP in our county who responded to C4S’s requests for an interview) said he would vote against it – and the numbers were not looking good for Mrs May in her own party, let alone the others.

Conservative MP for East Worthing & Shoreham Tim Loughton

At Caring4Sussex, we’ve tried to narrow it down and look at the issues affecting our county, whatever the future holds.

Demographics and care

“Older people tended to be more about leave, and Sussex has a much older average population, taking out Brighton, particularly in coastal areas like mine,” said Loughton. “Demographics dictated the result was likely to be Leave.”

Indeed, West Sussex has one of the largest elderly populations in England, with all areas apart from Crawley having a median age of more than 43. Worthing has the second highest average age, 43, after Blackpool. More than 30% of the population in all areas except Crawley are over 65.

Some might call it ironic, then, that the very demographic which may have determined the result could suffer the most from it.

Guild Care is one of Worthing’s oldest and best‐known care charities, with three care homes, day services for older people, home care, support for people living with dementia and centres for people with learning disabilities.

In the run-up to Brexit Suzanne Millard, Guild Care CEO, said there were two main concern facing the charity: the threat of delayed health care supplies; and the added obstacles to staff coming to work in the UK.

“Until six months ago we weren’t really thinking about Brexit, but now it’s increasingly looking like a hard Brexit we need to start worrying about some of the fall‐out,” she said.

“You can’t run a care home without essential things like incontinence pads and we are now going to our suppliers to ask what they’re doing about it to ensure we have enough equipment and supplies to run our care homes and community services.”

The staffing problem would exist with or without the looming spectre of Brexit, she said, but it wasn’t helping.

“There’s a national shortage of carers. The NHS staffing strategy was to recruit staff from overseas, in particular from Europe. Eleven per cent of our staff come from overseas, and of these, 55 per cent are EU nationals. So that’s six per cent of our workforce.

“Turnover of staff is high and there is no one solution. It needs a national strategy and no government over the past ten years has done anything about it.”

Tim Loughton says there is an urgent need not only to train and upskill Brits, but to give greater status to people who work in care.

“We need to value people who work in care, not least because we’re going to need more of them as the population gets older,” he said. “So why are people not going into it? Because it’s poorly paid, and it’s not seen as a properly valued profession.

 “Some years ago, there was a shortage of nurses and we had to change the law on getting people in from countries outside the EU. After a lot of pressure on the government they were given greater status as Tier 2 immigrants as nursing was a scarce profession – and they could come in from outside the EU. We may well need to a similar thing for care workers and it needs to go hand in hand with them being better skilled and better valued.

“With Brexit, there’s a case for saying we want to have the best people in the world, whether it’s a software engineer from India or a nurse from the Philippines, or a doctor from Australia – but at the moment they’re second class citizens because if you’re from the EU you get an automatic way in.”

Farming

Sussex farms a lot of sheep, and is currently home to 331,000 them, 38 per cent of which normally end up on European dinner tables, according to the National Farmers’ Union.

It also has the largest glasshouse sector, near Chichester, producing £500 million of fresh produce and ornamental flowers a year.

The county’s malting barley is vital for Europe’s brewing industry.

“Around 70% of UK food and agricultural exports go to EU countries, says the NFU. “To get a new agreement with every country would be dramatically time consuming and cause huge economic losses. Increased tariffs, border checks and customs controls, on top of the cost of compliance with the EU regulations that British farmers already meet, top the list of concerns.

“Lamb exported to the EU would face a tariff of around 67 per cent under Europe’s Common Customs Tariff, whilst around 85 per cent would be applied to beef.”

 “Half of my constituency is in the South Downs national park, I’ve got six or seven farmers there and just about all of them voted for Brexit,” says Loughton. “They were adamant that the Common Agricultural Policy has been hugely restrictive and destructive, and they know ultimately it is completely unsustainable.

“It was designed for inefficient, smaller farmers in France and eastern Europe, and we have the most efficient agricultural system in Europe. We have the highest animal welfare standards and we have very high environmental requirements as well. That’s not what the CAP encourages.

“It restricts farmers as to what crops they can grow on the basis of what they’ll pay out in subsidies. Those crops are not necessarily the most economic crops, or best suited to the local environment, or what the consumer actually wants.”

He says trade negotiations are under way with countries outside the EU.

“We’re looking to have a three-way trade agreement with New Zealand and the States, where we export our lamb to the States for half the year, and New Zealand exports the other half of the year. Vietnam want to import more of our beef, in return for exporting their rice to us. These sorts of deals we just aren’t able to do within the EU and as part of the CAP.”

Chris Peer is the treasure of the Sussex branch of European Movement, a nationwide organisation that has been campaigning to stay within the EU. He is also MD of Maritime House Ltd, a trading company in Haywards Heath.

“There is no restriction on what EU farmers can grow,” he says, citing ‘a well-informed relative farmer’.

“If we left the EU and adopted tariff and quota-free trade in agricultural products, most UK farmers would be driven out of business because they cannot compete with production in other countries whose geography enables far lower production costs to be achieved.

“Eighty per cent of UK agricultural exports go to the EU and 30 per cent of the food consumed in the UK comes from the EU so our markets are very closely integrated.”

The other issue surrounding farming is the workers needed to do the job – and for this, the NFU is lobbying the government for a seasonal agricultural workers’ policy, it says.

It is of course part of the immigration issue, which was held aloft as one of the main reasons why the vote went the way it did. 

Immigration

When C4S was trawling the streets looking for people to confess why they voted how they voted (see vox pop on pages 18-19), not many admitted that immigration was a concern to them.

But it is a concern, says Tim Loughton.

“Here in Sussex we also happen to be in the frontline of Europe, so rightly or wrongly, a lot of people saw our proximity to Europe and immigration as having an impact on house prices,” he said.

“We’re already the most densely populated part of the UK, so whether it’s right or wrong the attitude is we are struggling to provide sufficient services and infrastructure for people already living here, we just cannot cope with uncapped numbers of people coming in.

“Whether or not you can make a case for their net contribution economically is another matter, but immigration was one of the reasons.”

Loughton says West Sussex faces three major problems – road infrastructure (primarily the A27), the health service (particularly in GP recruitment issues), and public services.

“There are real problems getting appointments with GPs and part of that is not being able to recruit them because they can’t afford to come and live in the expensive south east,” he says.

“People moving into the area is also going to put pressure on public services like schools. There’s the perception that we’re full up and are struggling to cope with the population we’ve got, without extra pressure. And if they’re from Europe there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Loughton believes that for too long, we have relied on cheaper labour coming from Europe to work in the service, care, tourism and construction industries.

“Effectively it’s been a cheaper and lazier option for employers to take on those workers rather than invest for the longer term in our own training or our own workers to take on those jobs,” he says.

“It is the oldest trick in the book to blame foreigners when things are going wrong in your own country,” says Peer. “If you go to Germany or Holland, both of whom contribute much more per head than the UK, you will see how much better funded their roads, schools and housing are.

“All the problems we have in these areas are entirely the fault of successive governments and have nothing to do with the EU. In fact, citizens of the other 27 EU countries represent less than five per cent of the UK population (possibly less in Sussex) and contribute more per head to the UK economy than the average UK citizen.”

For Sussex businesses, says Loughton, the worst thing at the moment is the uncertainty.

“But 95-96 per cent of small businesses in this country do not trade in Europe yet are still subject to EU regulations about the size and shape of their widgets and everything else,” he says.

“Small businesses in Sussex have much higher overheads pandering to all sorts of EU regulations, so although we want to keep standards, many businesses are not selling their products in EU countries anyway. Bigger companies will be able to look after themselves – they trade around the world, they will adapt to whatever the regulations are in whatever country they’re trading with – so it’s small businesses above all that need certainty.”

Peer says: “It is a fundamental mistake that the EU is responsible for all the regulations which affect UK companies. The House of Commons Library estimated before the referendum that less than 15 per cent of UK laws had anything to do with the EU.”

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