Post-Brexit cash demands call by Wigan councillor

Mayor Andy Burnham
Mayor Andy Burnham

Councils across Greater Manchester need answers on European Union funding alternatives post-Brexit, Wigan’s deputy leader has said.

Speaking at a meeting of the GM combined authority, Coun Keith Cunliffe urged colleagues to continue “to be involved in discussions” on decisions that will have a “significant impact” for the region.

In response, Mayor Andy Burnham said more details on government proposals are expected later this month that will allow the authority to start “very real discussion”.

Coun Cunliffe told combined authority colleagues cash from the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF), that will cease from 2020, should be replaced at the same level. He said: “In the last period, 2014 to 2020, Greater Manchester benefitted from about £413m. On the basis that is match funded, that’s about £800m.

“The government has said there will be a UK prosperity fund but there’s been no indication on the size of it. There’s been no indication on the eligibility criteria for how you can get it, nothing about how it will be allocated and who will be responsible for distributing it and spending it.

“We’re nine months off coming out of the EU, one and a half years off losing this funding. I think we need to be doing far more about, and having far more involvement around, what is going to be national government policy that will affect Greater Manchester. (The prosperity fund) should be at least as much as the European structural funding, if not more because of the Brexit dividend, if we’re not spending it all on the NHS.”

GM leaders have regular monthly updates on the impact of Brexit, including on investor confidence, house prices, economic growth and employment.

Mr Burnham said: “I suspect this is the last month when this item feels a little routine and academic. It has been confirmed to me that the government’s white paper on proposals, particularly for the customs union, is going to be published on July 9. I think the situation at that point will change and it will become a very real discussion about the impact of their proposals on Greater Manchester.”

The mayor, who has previously accused ministers of keeping Greater Manchester in the dark on Brexit, added: “We are months away from what increasingly feels like a cliff edge and it’s not an acceptable state of affairs.

“We have had a series of ad-hoc meetings with junior ministers. One took place recently. I asked if analysis had been done of the various Brexit scenarios. They confirmed that it had been, but they also confirmed that they wouldn’t be released to us. I don’t think that’s a sustainable or acceptable state of affairs.”

He added: “Coun Cunliffe, you are right, we should have ongoing input as part of the process and have repeatedly called for that but it still remains an unsatisfactory ad-hoc arrangement.

“Around the shared prosperity fund: it’s unclear what lies ahead. It should be at the level we currently receive, at least. It should be devolved as much as possible, we should have the decision of how best to use it to support our local industrial strategy.”

A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “As we have repeatedly made clear, our programme of analysis is ongoing but we are not going to provide a running commentary on it.”