Combined Authority calls for more flexible post-Brexit funding regime to rebalance North's economy
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has called for greater local control over funding to rebalance the economy after the UK leaves the European Union next year
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has called for greater local control over funding to rebalance the economy after the UK leaves the European Union next year.
At its meeting today, the Combined Authority agreed a series of principles that the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which the Government has committed to creating with money repatriated from the EU, should follow if major northern regions like Leeds City Region are to play their full part in driving UK prosperity after Brexit. This includes ensuring that the value of UK Shared Prosperity Funding available to local areas at least matches existing EU and domestic funding levels.
In Leeds City Region this would equate to a Shared Prosperity Fund allocation of at least £200million a year to sustain current levels of investment and support the region's growth ambitions.
The Combined Authority also called on Government to seize the opportunity of putting in place a radical new approach to how local growth funding is allocated - placing control of funding decisions in local hands and creating a single funding pot to ensure that investment is properly targeted to local needs.
Members also agreed that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund needs to take a long-term approach, operating over a 7-10 year period as a minimum to ensure that funding is sustainable and focuses on ingrained barriers to productivity and better living standards.
Roger Marsh, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and of the recently created NP11 (Northern Powerhouse 11) group of local enterprise partnerships from across the North said: "The only thing that's certain about Brexit is the total uncertainty about how our exit from the EU will affect business and our economy.
"We're doing all we can to help businesses in our region prepare, but we also need some encouraging signals from Government about the direction of future funding like the Shared Prosperity Fund. This is an opportunity to create a funding mechanism that supports and accelerates the work already underway to create faster growth which benefits our regions and the UK as a whole.
"We want to work with the Government to ensure the Fund is designed in a way that supports locally-determined plans and priorities, is straightforward to administer and is in place to ensure a smooth transition from European funding."
Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council and Member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority said: "Through our investment in transport, skills, attracting companies and supporting business we have demonstrated how we can effectively deploy funding to create economic growth which benefits all our communities.
"The flexibility for areas to use funding to address local priorities quickly and effectively must be at the core of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund."
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Bradford Council, said: "Leeds City Region currently has one of the largest European funding allocations of any local enterprise partnership area in the country, together with the largest local growth fund allocation. This investment is making a massive difference to our economy - from schemes to help businesses start up, grow and become more productive, to programmes that enable people to participate fully in the labour market and improve their living standards.
"The results we've achieved in just a few years - including the best international trade results in the Northern Powerhouse, and private sector growth at above the UK average rate - underlines just how important it is to sustain this investment.
"There is also an opportunity for Government to do things differently by ending the bureaucracy and fragmentation in the current system, giving regions like ours the freedom to allocate investment according to local priorities and making an even bigger difference to national competitiveness."
Support for SMEs
The Combined Authority also discussed the work that it and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is doing to prepare the region for a no-deal Brexit. This includes support for local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - which make up 99% of the City Region's business base - to become more resilient and trade with markets outside the EU; intensive work with foreign-owned companies in the region to help those firms manage the transition out of the EU; and support for people in the region to re-train and access new employment opportunities to fill potential skills gaps left by returning EU migrants.
City Region partners are also working hard to build confidence in overseas investor markets, as shown by the recent trade and investment mission to China, led by Cllr Judith Blake. The most recent EY Attractiveness Survey of the top inward investment destinations in the UK showed that Leeds remained in the top three cities in England for foreign direct investment (FDI) following an 18% increase in FDI from the previous year.