Government must improve the way it helps local councils prepare for Brexit, says Sheffield MP

A senior Yorkshire MP has criticised the 'ad hoc, infrequent and uneven' way Ministers have helped local councils prepare for Brexit.

Clive Betts MP
Clive Betts MP

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betters, who chairs the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, called on the Government to “sharpen up” its engagement with town halls about the UK’s departure from the Europen Union.

He said the future of funding that currently comes from the EU was of “considerable concern” among city leaders, particularly in traditional industrial areas like South Yorkshire which have been beneficiaries of the EU Social and Regional Development Funds.

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The Labour MP said no details had been released about how or when the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace the EU schemes, would be administered, operated and distributed.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid

The committee has in recent weeks been carrying out a rolling inquiry on the potential effect of Brexit on local government, which included taking evidence from city leaders.

Earlier this month, Tees Valley’s mayor told the committee that northern political leaders should be given control of the millions of pounds that will return to Britain after Brexit to give Theresa May a “quick win” as she seeks to rebalance the economy.

Ben Houchen, the North’s only directly elected mayor east of the Pennines, said regional aid cash handed out by Brussels comes with “strings attached” and so “distorts” local economies as it can only be used for certain projects.

Handing control to devolved leaders will mean it is used more effectively, he argued. The Yorkshire region was set to receive about £340m in EU regional development funding from 2014-2020.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid

In a letter to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, Mr Betts said: “The government needs to take account and act on the evidence about the local challenges arising from Brexit.

“It’s clear that government engagement with local government on Brexit has varied enormously but characteristically appears to be ad hoc, infrequent and uneven.

“The government process for dialogue with local government needs to be formalised and structured in a similar way to that with the devolved administrations of N Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

“With just one year to go until the UK leaves the EU this would ensure that local government is a regular participant as Brexit negotiations progress.”

He added that the committee was surprised none of the £3bn fund to help the UK prepare for Brexit was being made available to local government.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We agree that local authorities have a critical role in making our exit from the EU a success for the communities they serve. That’s why we’re holding on-going discussions with them about the challenges and opportunities they face as the UK leaves the EU. We’ll continue to ensure that local government’s voice is heard in negotiations over the coming months.”