The North must get control over money repatriated from the EU after Brexit to drive up living standards in towns and cities “locked out” of economic success, a group of the region’s political and business leaders have said.
The elected Mayors of South Yorkshire, Tees Valley, Manchester and Liverpool demanded control of a pot of cash they say is worth £2.4bn a year.
Sheffield City Region's Dan Jarvis, Tees Valley's Ben Houchen, Manchester’s Andy Burnham and Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram called on the Government to devolve the upcoming Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), which will fund areas currently backed financially by the EU after the UK leaves.
It came as the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that despite record employment levels, many towns and cities have fallen further behind the country on jobs and pay for the least well-off.
In Yorkshire, Hull, Bradford, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield have all seen their employment rate and pay for least well-off workers fall relative to the national average since 2002.
In a joint article, the Mayors argued that for the UK to "take back control" after Brexit, there must be "substantial devolution of power and resources out of Westminster to the English regions".
They said that while the UK's employment rate has recently hit a record high and some cities are thriving, "some places remain locked out of this success story".
Mr Jarvis said: “As we get set to leave the European Union in March next year, it is critical that the Government reaffirm their commitment to devolution by giving elected Mayors control of a fair share of the money that used to be sent to Brussels.”
The Yorkshire Post last week reported Mr Houchen's demands for immediate devolution of EU powers after Brexit during a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference.
The Tory Mayor added today: “What I don’t want is another Whitehall power grab. Post Brexit, we need to ensure that EU funding comes directly back to Metro Mayors so we can direct investment most effectively to meet the needs of local people and local businesses.”
Their call was backed by business groups including the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is chaired by the former Chancellor George Osborne, and the NP11 Board, which represents 11 local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) in the North of England.
Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the NP11 and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said: “The creation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is an opportunity to create a funding mechanism that supports and accelerates the work already underway to create faster growth which benefits our regions and the UK as a whole.
“We want to work with the Government to ensure the fund is designed in a way that supports locally-determined plans and priorities, is straightforward to administer and is in place to ensure a smooth transition from European funding.”
The JRF report said that EU Structural Funds and Government match funding are worth £2.4bn a year to the UK, and the SPF should equal that sum.
Control should be devolved to local administrations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and areas of England, the report said.
They should also be allocated based on an area's employment rate and average earnings, it recommended.
In July the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss told MPs the SPF would be set up with a remit to tackle inequalities between different parts of the country by taking action to raise productivity in disadvantaged areas.
The Government has already agreed to underwrite funding for UK organisations receiving EU funds for projects agreed before the official date of Brexit in March 2019.
Ms Truss's announcement extended this to the end of the transition period in December 2020.