EU struc­tural funds should come to us af­ter Brexit Re­gion should de­cide how to spend cash it­self, says mayor

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Jonathan Walker Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

WEST Mid­lands Mayor Andy Street has urged the Govern­ment to hand the re­gion hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds cur­rently spent by the Euro­pean Union.

He said the West Mid­lands Com­bined Au­thor­ity, which he chairs, should get the EU fund­ing that cur­rently goes to the re­gion.

The area served by the mayor is to re­ceive £550 mil­lion be­tween 2014 and 2020 from the Euro­pean Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Fund and Euro­pean So­cial Fund, known as EU struc­tural funds.

Ac­cord­ing to the Govern­ment, these funds will be re­placed by a new UK Shared Pros­per­ity Fund af­ter Brexit takes place.

And Mr Street said the West Mid­lands Com­bined Au­thor­ity should get the cash di­rectly, al­low­ing the re­gion to de­cide for it­self how to spend the money.

He said: “The is­sue at stake is whether the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties cur­rently held in Brus­sels will sim­ply be de­volved back to London or whether there is an op­por­tu­nity for some of those things to be passed straight on to the re­gions of Eng­land.

“I do be­lieve that those EU struc­tural funds should be­come un­der the con­trol of the West Mid­lands Com­bined Au­thor­ity.”

The mayor was speak­ing at West­min­ster where he gave ev­i­dence to the Com­mons Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­sti­tu­tional Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

He said that se­nior Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians such as for­mer Prime Min­ster David Cameron and for­mer Chan­cel­lor Ge­orge Os­borne had promised English re­gions would have con­trol over their own bud­gets, but this had not yet come hap­pened.

There has been “lit­tle progress” to­wards “true de­vo­lu­tion”, said Mr Street.

Asked how more de­vo­lu­tion could take place, he said: “I think there is one over­whelm­ing an­swer for us, which is this ques­tion of EU struc­tural funds in all their dif­fer­ent guises.”

Mr Street re­vealed he had been in reg­u­lar con­tact with se­nior Cab­i­net Min­is­ters, in­clud­ing Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis, to warn that get­ting Brexit wrong could dev­as­tate the West Mid­lands econ­omy.

He told MPs: “We have had dis­cus­sions with govern­ment min­is­ters about the im­port of the cus­toms union ar­range­ments for our man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor... so yes, we have dis­cussed that di­rectly with cab­i­net mem­bers and in­deed the Sec­re­tary of State re­spon­si­ble, and I am sat­is­fied that they un­der­stand the im­por­tance of that to the West Mid­lands econ­omy.”

Mr Street said he had seen the Govern­ment’s as­sess­ments of the ef­fect of Brexit on re­gions such as the West Mid­lands.

But he said the West Mid­lands Com­bined Au­thor­ity had not car­ried out an as­sess­ment of its own. He added: “But there are as­sess­ments be­ing done in the re­gion, for ex­am­ple by Birm­ing­ham Uni­ver­sity.”

Mr Street said he had also been in talks with the Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion about de­volv­ing more pow­ers to the West Mid­lands. This is likely to mean giv­ing the Com-

Those EU struc­tural funds should be­come un­der the con­trol of the West Mid­lands Com­bined Au­thor­ity Mayor Andy Street, be­low

bined Au­thor­ity con­trol over skills and adult ed­u­ca­tion. But he said the Depart­ment had been slow to agree, be­cause it was wor­ried about the state of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in some parts of the West Mid­lands. Mr Street told the MPs Birm­ing­ham had suf­fered a huge de­cline be­tween the 1960s and 2010, but was now re­cov­er­ing. He said: “Some­thing has hap­pened in the West Mid­lands, which is per­haps a thing other ar­eas can learn from. Our rel­a­tive per­for­mance up to 2010 was poor. In the 1960s, pay rates in the West Mid­lands were the high­est in the UK. You could ar­gue that Birm­ing­ham was on many mea­sures the wealth­i­est city in the union.” But by 2010, some parts of Birm­ing­ham had the high­est un­em­ploy­ment rate in the coun­try, he said. No­body would claim Birm­ing­ham’s prob­lems were “solved”, said Mr Street, but he con­tin­ued: “What is ab­so­lutely clear is that by many mea­sures at the mo­ment, there is a re­vival in the econ­omy.” fund­ing for

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