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