Duty to ensure no loss of funding following withdrawal from the European Union

Local Government Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 21 February 2017.

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‘(1) This section applies where any funding is provided to a billing authority or Combined Authority by the Secretary of State in consequence of funds made available by EU institutions in the financial years beginning on 1 April 2017, 2018 and 2019.

(2) Where this section applies, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that, in the five year period beginning with the date on which the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the funding made available to a billing authority in question is not reduced in respect of any funds that were made available by EU institutions in the period specified in subsection (1).’—

This new clause would ensure that funding available from EU institutions is replaced by funding from the Secretary of State for the five years after exit.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I do not intend to spend a great deal of time on the new clause, which does what it says on the tin: it would secure the money that is currently provided to local areas through European funding post exit from the European Union. For many of our areas, that money is integral to their local economic development plans, to their education and training plans and, in many cases, to their devolution submissions. In a number of our areas, particularly those with combined authority arrangements in place, the local authority is the accountable body for EU funding in its area.

There is one thing that Members may not appreciate about European money. We always discuss whether it is being spent in the best possible way, although that is usually determined by the local community and not by the European Union. It is the communities themselves, through their councils, that make the applications, not the European Union. We talk about the north-south divide, but it is really London and the south-east that has a significantly different financial settlement from everywhere else in England. European funding and the way it is allocated by region provides an element of rebalancing.

I remind Members of the transport investment figures that have come out just this week, which highlighted that London gets £1,940 per head compared with £220 per head for those in the north-east, £680 per head for those in the north-west—although quite a lot of that is temporary funding; it is time limited—and just £190 per head for those living in Yorkshire and the Humber.

London gets £93 per head in European structural funds, compared with £285 in the north-east, £161 in the north-west and £150 in Yorkshire and the Humber. Therefore, there is a strong argument to say that European Union funding is being used partly to counterbalance a centralising Government in Westminster who advantage the London boroughs.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon 3:30, 21 February 2017

On that point, will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the Government for today awarding £235,000 to my constituency for smart traffic management, showing that they do look well beyond London?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I will join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the residents of Swindon on that investment. I have no idea what it has got to do with the new clause though.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I note with interest that the hon. Gentleman did not include any figures for the south-west or Cornwall. Historically, Cornwall has received just about the lowest level of investment in its transport infrastructure, yet it receives the highest level of EU funding. Despite that, Cornwall voted 62% to leave because we recognise that the EU programme is so prescriptive we cannot spend the funding on the things we actually want and need to spend it on to improve our local economy. I believe we will be far better off running our own programme. I am not worried about it being pound-for-pound matched, but I do want it to be fit for purpose for our local needs.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I am absolutely delighted that Government Members are supporting the new clause on that basis because that is exactly what the new clause is there to do. It is not there to stick with the current assessment criteria outlined by the European Union; it is not even there to ensure that the programme activity is continued. The new clause is about maintaining the amount of money being provided to those regions at current levels.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I would like to pick up on an earlier point made by the hon. Member for Harrow West, who talked about the antipathy to London. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think London is a wonderful place. It is so successful economically, but that is because it has had more investment. That is the point that is being made.

Southend-on-Sea, for example, is very badly treated in terms of local government funding—it receives around £720 a year per head, when many rich London authorities get £1,200 a year per head. It is simply not fair. The position is similar with transport projects. This is not a metropolitan versus rural issue; it is a London versus the rest of the country issue.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

The rebalancing discussion was more about making the point that there has to be a recognition that more public sector investment goes into London. There will be reasons for that. This is not about London not being entitled to the money it gets. However, there is a call from other regions, not to say, “We want London to get less,” but to say, “We want the same.” A conversation on that basis is far more productive than setting one part of the United Kingdom against another, which other parties might to seek to. No one in this room would want to do that.

On that basis, there would be an open door for retaining European funding to the regions and, absolutely, allowing flexibility on how that is spent, even tied to negotiation with Government. However, as it stands, there is no certainty that that money will continue when we leave the EU. More than that, there is concern that in order to pay the divorce bill—not just for the lawyers, but for the settlement in terms of pension costs and historical and ongoing liabilities—the nation may have to provide a lot of money up front, which could be used for regional funding in the way that has been discussed.

If the new clause is agreed today, at least we will be able to lock down the funding that is sent to the regions to ensure that they are not paying a price for that divorce. There is a world of difference between people saying, “I’m going to vote to leave because I want more determination by my nation of the future of my nation,” and “I voted to leave because I want less investment for my community.” We need to be careful. Our challenge to the Government is to prove that their flavour of Brexit is not going to leave our constituents poorer than they were before. The new clause would help to show that they will not necessarily be poorer and that the Government understand that our regions need to be supported.

I should perhaps confess that it is a probing new clause. However, if it is not supported by the Government, we run the risk of providing further evidence to our local authorities that those in this grand place simply do not get it.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for providing the opportunity to discuss the new clause, which aims to ensure that local authorities see no loss in funding following our withdrawal from the European Union. The Government will want to consider the future of all programmes that are currently EU funded once we have left the EU.

Over the coming months, we will consult closely with stakeholders to review all EU funding schemes in the round to ensure that any ongoing funding commitments best serve the UK’s national interest, while ensuring appropriate investor certainty. We will, of course, ensure that local government’s voice is heard in negotiations with the EU. I think that is what the hon. Gentleman was alluding to with some of his concerns. The Government have already announced that local authorities will be guaranteed EU funding for European structural and investment funds projects that provide good value for money and meet domestic priorities that are signed off before the UK’s departure from the EU, even when those projects continue after we have left the EU.

I hope the reassurance I have provided means that the hon. Gentleman will stick to his confession and decide not to put the new clause to a vote.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I thank the Minister for his comments. We have had a good debate but I do not think we have had clarity that the Government have committed to ensure that the EU funding will be in place over the life of the programme. The programme, of course, takes us only to 2020. Beyond that date, our regions have no idea how much money they will receive for research, development and skills investment. I do not accept the Government’s response as sufficient to give comfort to those areas. However, it was important to table the new clause in order at least to elicit that response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 10