If you’re anything like me, you haven’t had a lot of sleep in the last few days. The result of last week’s referendum has come as a shock to many – if not all – of us. Our government is in disarray. The opposition appears to be tearing itself apart. And it is far from clear what is going to happen next.
It will take time for us to understand the ramifications of Thursday’s decision. Leaving the European Union will present massive challenges to all organisations delivering public services. And it is still too early to know what the specific impacts will be.
But there are things that we need to do right away.
Firstly, we need to reassure our staff and those who rely on our services – especially those who are from other EU member states – that we will do all that we can to support them in the period of uncertainty that is to come. Hats off to those universities, for example, who have already committed to maintain tuition fees for EU students starting courses later this year at the current levels.
Secondly, we need to work with our representative bodies to ensure that our views are heard and that the needs of the people we serve are taken into account in the long and complex negotiations that will inevitably precede our exit from the EU. So whether it is the Local Government Association, the National Housing Federation, Universities UK or whatever, get in touch and make your voice heard.
Third, we need to adopt a zero tolerance policy on intolerance and xenophobia. I do not for one moment believe that the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU are ignorant or xenophobic. But I am concerned that the small number of people who are both will see the referendum result as a vindication of their views. We must send a strong message – in our actions as well as our words – that any abuse of immigrants to this country will not be tolerated.
Finally, we need – as far as is humanly possible – to stay calm and stay positive. We are still in the European Union and life will continue as normal for the time being. The process of withdrawing from the EU will take time. And it is in nobody’s interests for things to come apart at the seams.
This is not the future that I personally would have chosen. Indeed, it’s not the one that I voted for last week. But it is up to us to work together to rebuild our fractured nation and to create a society that is fair and just for everyone.