Local leaders have asked the government for urgent clarification on the allocation of post-Brexit development funds after “continuing” delays in Whitehall.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 300 authorities across the country, has warned that time is running out for regions to spend their initial shares of the UK’s £2.6billion Shared Prosperity Fund – the post-Brexit replacement of EU structural funding. — by the end of the financial year.
The councils submitted broad investment plans for the first phase of the fund – which has been touted as a key part of departmental plans to ‘improve’ economic prospects across the country – over the summer.
The government told councils to expect a verdict in October, with the money due to be spent by April, but local leaders said they had not yet received details on when they would receive funds.
“Local leaders want to continue the work of upgrading their communities, but are waiting for the government to give them the green light on the UKSPF,” said Councilor Kevin Bentley, chairman of the People and Places Board of the LGA.
“The investment plans, indicating how they [the government] have plans to boost businesses, high streets, community support and a whole range of other areas, have been submitted by councils and combined authorities, but continued approval delays are preventing them from realizing their ambitions” , did he declare.
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is intended to replace the EU’s seven-year Structural and Investment Fund for long-term regional development.
Michael Gove, leveling secretary, said it would “help spread opportunity and level the country” when details of the fund were announced in April, with an initial amount of £250million made available for this exercise.
Councils were then asked to develop investment plans for their allocations, with many choosing to focus on skills and infrastructure. While the plans required government approval, local authorities expected Whitehall to take a relatively ‘light touch’ approach to its assessments.
However, the government was then thrown into turmoil which resulted in three prime ministers in four months, while Gove was sacked and his department led by two different successive ministers before returning to office in October.
UKSPF allocations and the second round of the £4.8billion Leveling Fund, designed to rejuvenate struggling areas through new community projects, have both been delayed.
Jayne Kirkham, a Labor councilor in the Cornish town of Falmouth, said it was obvious the deadlines were slipping.
“We’re supposed to spend the first bit [of the UKSPF] by the end of the financial year, but now it’s November and no one has had an accepted offer,” she said. “So how the hell are we going to spend it by the end of the fiscal year?”
Local leaders now fear that the delays, combined with inflation, could curb vital economic investments. In October, inflation reached 11.1%, its highest level in 41 years.
“What is needed now is a clear government decision on the UKSPF, so that these vital projects – which are so essential to our economic growth and recovery – can get under way before inflation and the prices do not rise any further,” Bentley said.
A government spokesperson said: “As set out in the autumn statement, the UKSPF has re-committed to matching EU funding across all four countries and we will soon begin delivery across the UK. .”