Save our EU funding city leaders tell PM as Grayling says HS2 is still on track
The leaders of Britain’s biggest cities have urged the Prime Minister to use Brexit to strengthen regional economies by safeguarding the current level of EU funding on infrastructure.
In a letter to Theresa May, the Core Cities group, which includes Birmingham and nine of the UK’s largest local authorities, warned that local government had already been hit badly by public spending cuts and pointed to a £66 billion productivity gap between the core cities and the national economic average.
The plea represents growing uncertainty in the local government world about the status of cash from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund in the period up to 2020 while Britain will be attempting to negotiate an exit from the EU.
As much as £600 million is at stake across the West Midlands, and council leaders want a steer from the Government as to whether the cash will be safeguarded while Brexit talks take place.
The letter calls for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister, and states:
Core Cities UK campaigned for remain, but we accept that exit from the EU will take place following the referendum result. We now need to ensure this transition is as successful as possible for our businesses and communities and we must start with a shared vision of what that success looks like.
EU funding currently spent across our city regions should remain in our city regions, including for universities which are central to strong labour markets. Establishing a secure trading future with access to the Single Market is fundamental to economic success.
Across the EU and beyond, it is cities that drive growth for their nations, and although other places must be given their chance and share in future growth, if the UK’s biggest cities are not successful then the places around them will struggle even more.
Birmingham city council leader John Clancy has already written to the new PM seeking an urgent meeting. He sets out the issues for discussion in an exclusive post for the Chamberlain Files.
The council leaders urged Mrs May not to let the time-consuming process of exiting the EU “eclipse other important legislation that can aid cities and grow our economies” including HS2 and handing metro mayors powers to run local bus services.
As far as HS2 is concerned, the council leaders received a positive reply immediately.
New Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC he had “no plans to step away from” the high speed rail track from London to Birmingham and Phase 2 to Manchester and Leeds.
Mr Grayling said:
Of course it makes sense if we’re going to build a new railway line for it to be a fast railway line, to increase travel times or reduce travel times from north to south – that’s logical.
But actually we need a better transport system for the 21st century and HS2 is part of increasing the capacity of our transport system.
Mr Grayling added:
The thing that’s important for people to understand is that HS2 is not simply a speed project, it’s a capacity project.
We have lines at the moment which have seen huge increases in the number of passengers, the amount of freight in recent years.
The council leaders’ hopes were also boosted by a forecast that the UK will avoid recession next year despite the impact of Brexit. The EY ITEM Club revised its GDP growth forecast from 2.6% to 0.4% in 2017 and said UK exports were likely to be the “silver lining in the Brexit cloud”, helped by a weaker pound.
In its letter to Mrs May, the Core Cities group urged the Prime Minister to develop plans for “a more inclusive economy” and to back work undertaken by the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission “to understand how to help more people share in prosperity and improve their life chances”.
The letter continued:
We believe part of the solution is to understand the link between social and economic policy – too often they are seen as separate. We must also look at the role of high quality public services play in connecting people to the labour market and job progression.
This is not a call to spend more. It is a call to spend differently and more efficiently – connecting up services and agencies, reducing duplication and waste, improving outcomes and life chances. As cities we have a significant and successful track record in delivering public service reform through a ‘place-based approach’ making a difference to thousands of lives.
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