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Why our regions must not lose out after Brexit

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 2019

Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield City Region, discusses the future of regional funding post-Brexit, and makes the case for greater devolution.

In March, the UK will exit the European Union. No matter what the detail of the deal is, itʼs critical that our communities donʼt become poorer as a result.

While much of the media interest in Brexit has tended to focus upon protest, political wrangling, and dire warnings, there has been much less coverage on the policies that will impact upon us here in the Sheffield City Region, and others around the country. One such policy relates to the future of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). Outside of politics, not many people would have heard of it, but it will soon become an issue that affects us all.

The UKSPF will amount to at least £2.4bn a year and will bring together a number of financing streams, including the EU Structural Fund and the Local Growth Fund (LGF). In the past, the government has promised that the UKSPF would tackle inequalities by raising regional productivity and would be simpler to access than the EU funds it will replace – but we are yet to see the detail of how it will do so.

The government also promised to consult on the UKSPF in 2018. With just a few weeks of the year left, I’m concerned that, once again, they will kick this important issue into the long grass. They must not, and instead they must act on their commitment to reduce inequality and target the areas where financial support is most needed. If they did so, they would be reinforcing regional and local success, not failure.

In South Yorkshire, our economy is growing. We’re attracting investment from companies such as McLaren and Boeing, creating jobs, and driving prosperity for all. Our Global Innovation Corridor is linking sites that excel in research, engineering, and advanced manufacturing – such as the University of Sheffieldʼs Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Doncaster Sheffield Airport, Barnsleyʼs Digital Media Centre, and the Olympic Legacy Park.

Local Growth Fund money, distributed by the Sheffield City Region, is enabling local decision-makers to put cash into the schemes that they know will make a real difference. Because of this grassroots approach, money being invested in our region is having a real impact on our communities, and investor confidence is increasing.

In Doncaster, it was LGF money that made the Great Yorkshire Way a reality. The second phase of the road opened earlier this year after receiving £9m of LGF funding. It directly connects Doncaster Sheffield Airport to the M18 motorway for the first time and is boosting passenger numbers at the airport, driving economic growth, and contributing to the success of local businesses. Emboldened by this investment, the airport has put in a planning application for a 3.5 million sqft expansion, creating up to 5,400 new jobs, and the nearby Yorkshire Wildlife Park is also seeing record visitor numbers.

In recent months, LGF money has also been ploughed into a number of other important projects. These include flood alleviation in Sheffield, an industrial development in Bassetlaw, the expansion of a business park in Rotherham, a leisure development in Doncaster, and crucial road improvements to link the M1 motorway and Dearne Valley Corridor in Barnsley.

It is also LGF money that has enabled the widening of Sheffieldʼs inner ring road, brought a multimillion-pound film and television studio to Doncaster, and supported Sheffield Hallam Universityʼs cutting-edge National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering.

These are important projects, and it is crucial this momentum is not lost after Brexit – thatʼs why Iʼm working closely with my fellow mayors to ensure our regions are not disadvantaged. Iʼm taking action to ensure that the UKSPF is distributed to those areas that need it, and local decision-makers are given the power to ensure the money is spent wisely.

Iʼve submitted evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Post-Brexit Funding, Iʼll be making the case in Parliament, and together with other metro mayors Iʼll be fighting for a fair deal. As a single group of directly-elected regional leaders, we provide a powerful and unified voice that is focused on persuading the government to grasp these opportunities, reinvigorate the devolution agenda, and provide regions with the powers and funding they need.

Funding should be targeted at places of need and devolved to regional and local institutions. Regions should have the autonomy to invest in locally-set priorities rather than priorities defined by government. As regional leaders, we are the people who know our areas best.

Our exit from the EU is imminent. We are ready to ensure that post-Brexit Britain is a place where all communities and regions can prosper – regardless of where they are on the map. This is too important an issue to let slide.


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