THOUGH the reasons for Britain leaving the European Union are multi-faceted, it is paradoxical that some of the strongest support for Brexit emanated from deprived areas which were supposed to have benefited most of all from funding programmes managed in Brussels.
It was clear – long before the referendum – that there was little recognition of those infrastructure projects, or training schemes, made possible because of European grants and, of course, money that the UK government paid into the EU’s coffers.
Take the European Social Fund which receives £500m a year. In spite of its imperfections, not least the EU being too prescriptive with its conditions, it provides invaluable skills training in areas with above-average levels of deprivation.
Its many success stories include the acclaimed Bad Boys Bakery in Brixton Prison. The skills training and work experience offered to offenders has seen the reoffending rate of participants drop from 47 per cent to just 3.3 per cent when they are released into the community.
And, because reoffending will inevitably rise and become a burden to society if such schemes stop, Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee – headed by the much-respected veteran Labour MP Frank Field – makes a profound point when it says that these groups need certainty and clarity over their future funding.
Though Mr Field’s committee points out that there will be greater opportunities for more bespoke programmes which reflect the priorities of local areas, rather than a wishlist drawn up by the EU, it is still waiting for the Government to finesse its proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund which, according to last year’s Tory manifesto, will be “cheap to administer, low in bureaucracy and targeted where it is most needed”. It’s an oversight that the Government needs to address.