MPs call on Westminster to give more Brexit support to councils

3 Apr 19

The government must address the “significant risks” that Brexit poses to local government, MPs have urged.

Workforce shortages, civil unrest, congestion around ports and loss of EU funding sources are all risks created by Brexit but central government is failing to give councils sufficient support around these issues, according to the housing, communities and local government committee.

A key concern of the committee is the lack of detail on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – the proposed replacement for EU funding for deprived regions of the UK.

The fund was promised in the 2017 Conservative manifesto and the government was supposed to open a consultation on it before the end of 2018 but no consultation has been put forward yet.

“The government must urgently advance its plans for the establishment of the UKSPF, and publish the promised consultation on its design and administration within two weeks form 12 April,” the report recommended.

Current funding from the EU for deprived regions – worth £1.3bn a year - will end in 2021 and the committee said a “clear funding structure” must be created to replace it.

The report called for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to “immediately step up is liaison with local authorities that bear responsibility for a major port”.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire has given £3.14m to 19 local authorities with ports but the report said councils had told them this is “inadequate”.

Portsmouth City Council has drawn £4m from their own reserves in order to address traffic disruption issues expected to be caused by Brexit – MHCLG’s funding amounts to just £136,000 per authority.

A PF investigation from January found that a number of other authorities were considering doing the same.

Committee chair Clive Betts said: “Whatever form of Brexit is finally decided upon, local authorities will play a key role in ensuring as little disruption as possible to people’s day-to-day lives.

“They have the local knowledge and experience to identify likely problems and create workable solutions, yet the government is not giving them sufficient support to do this, nor is it adequately seeking their input to identify problems and inform their planning.

“The government must provide adequate financial support and technical guidance to respond to emerging challenges. It is also absolutely imperative that the government now brings forward its plans for replacing the EU funding that some of the poorest communities across the country currently rely on.”

Philip Atkins, County Councils Network vice chairman, said: “Despite the focus on London and the major cities, residents and workers in county areas are likely to be affected the most by Brexit.

“County areas received £4.1bn from the last tranche of EU Structural Funds, five times the amount the capital received. It is imperative that these funds are adequately replaced.”

Kevin Bentley, chair of the Local Government Association’s Brexit taskforce, said: “Councils are taking a lead on preparations for Brexit and are as prepared as they can be for Brexit given the uncertainty surrounding the process. There remain resource, information and advice gaps that councils are facing while helping their communities prepare.”

An MHCLG spokesperson said: “The select committee recognises the government’s work to help councils prepare for Brexit and we continue to engage with them so they are kept well-informed.  

“We have updated national guidance to support them with any decision-making they may need to take and are also providing over £58 million to ensure they can provide their communities with the support they may require.”

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