West Yorkshire leaders vow to keep pressure on government over EU spending replacement

Dark clouds or blue skies for Leeds in a post-Brexit Britain?
Dark clouds or blue skies for Leeds in a post-Brexit Britain?

Leaders in West Yorkshire have pledged to keep the pressure on government to ensure the region’s EU spending is replaced after Brexit.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), which oversees transport and infrastructure projects in the region, met to discuss how European funding for projects would be replaced once the UK left the EU.

Regional funding from the EU is known as European structural and investment funds (ESIFs), and includes money from three EU bodies: the European Social Fund, European Regional Development Fund and European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Leeds City Region’s ESIF allocation is around €398m for the period of 2014-2020.

The Conservatives claimed in the run up to the 2017 election that ESIF would be replaced with a scheme known as the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF).

And now leaders in West Yorkshire are keen to ensure the region gets its fair slice of the cash once the fund is up and running.

Leader of Bradford Council and chair of WYCA Susan Hinchcliffe said: “At a time like this, transport and skills are even more important – as is making sure our economy is resilient for what comes next.

“We are relying on the SPF being shared out in a fair way across the country – we need to make sure we have the investment we need to support growth. We need to make sure we make up that gap.

“It’s a really important time for the country – we need to get our position strong and correct.”

A report from WYCA pointed out that, if the government’s current local growth fund would become part of the UK SPF, this would mean annual funding would have to reach at least £200 million “to ensure that Leeds City Region can support its growth ambitions.”

Following the meeting Roger Marsh, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said: “The only thing that’s certain about Brexit is the total uncertainty about how our exit from the EU will affect business and our economy.

“We’re doing all we can to help businesses in our region prepare, but we also need some encouraging signals from Government about the direction of future funding like the SPF.

“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.”

Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Through our investment in transport, skills, attracting companies and supporting business we have demonstrated how we can effectively deploy funding to create economic growth which benefits all our communities.

“The flexibility for areas to use funding to address local priorities quickly and effectively must be at the core of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.”

A Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government spokesperson said earlier this week: “Leaving the European Union presents an opportunity to design a new, simplified, integrated fund operating across the United Kingdom.

“We are continuing to engage Mayors and mayoral combined authorities to ensure certainty of funding, ahead of a public consultation later this year.

“Decisions on the operation and allocation of the UK SPF will be made following the consultation.”