Government paid out £10m to help business prepare for cliff-edge departure in October
Boris Johnson’s government is trying to claw back some of the £10m paid to trade organisations to prepare for a no-deal Brexit last October after dozens of events were organised for businesses for a hard crash-out from the bloc that never happened.
According to data released to the Financial Times after a request under Freedom of Information legislation, 131 groups including the National Federation of Fish Friers and the UK Theatre Association used the money to stage events and raise no-deal awareness with its members.
Organisations were handed sums from tens to hundreds of thousands each, from local groups with hundreds of members to the largest trade organisations in the UK, such as the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) was the biggest recipient, taking more than £850,000 in state funds.
The details shine a light on some of the wasted costs of preparations for a no-deal Brexit in the run-up to the previous deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU.
Companies have also complained about the need to stockpile and draw up contingency plans in case the UK crashed out, a scenario ultimately avoided when Mr Johnson backed down on his “do or die” pledge and requested a further delay to the end of this month.
Despite the wasted money, some analysts view the no-deal activity as part of the prime minister’s plan to convince EU leaders he was serious about leaving without a deal, placing Brussels under pressure to grant a new withdrawal agreement he could sell to the country.
“The government was spending money on, and hedging against, an outcome that neither side really wanted,” said Anand Menon, director of the think-tank UK in a Changing Europe.
“It was a process driven by political posturing . . . but it was good business for someone.”
The £10.27m fund was announced last August. A month earlier, chancellor Sajid Javid announced a £138m nationwide advertising blitz to prepare the public for the possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU.
While much of the £10m is likely to have been spent by the trade associations, the government is still hoping that some of it may be returned.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) gave groups an extra month in November to provide evidence of its expenditure.
In the FOI response, BEIS said “this evidence is being reviewed and will enable BEIS to determine the level of any clawback/returned funds”.
But some of the trade bodies said the money had come far too late. Haulage body, the RHA, said it only received its share at the beginning of October. “Our communication ‘window’ was, at best narrow,” the body said.
“We embarked on an extensive media campaign, placing advertisements in the national and local press and getting local radio coverage,” the RHA added. “This was in addition to a strong social media campaign, a dedicated website and many webinars. All of the above cost a lot of money and a great deal of time.” It said that any leftover funds would be returned.
As part of the programme to reach out to smaller businesses, more than £200,000 was awarded to two groups that represent the public relations industry; the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) received £146,000, while the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) was awarded £56,700.
The CIPR used the funds for short videos which offered professional advice on how PR consultants could prepare clients for a no-deal Brexit and promotional material on social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook.
The group added that it expected to return £26,545 of the funds. “Ultimately we were not able to spend all the funds we had been granted,” the CIPR said.
Meanwhile, the PRCA used its government funds to hold events across the UK about the prospect of no-deal, featuring legal professionals and Brexit experts and a focus on issues such as copyright and immigration.
Other bodies to receive government no-deal funding included the National Sheep Association, the Institute of Couriers and English UK, an organisation that represents English language teaching.
Source: www.ft.com - Daniel Thomas
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