Hartlepool's needs must be 'front and centre' of £2.4billion post-Brexit cash pot, says Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen

Hartlepool and other northern towns and cities must get control of their rightful share of the post-Brexit cash pot, the Tees Valley Mayor has said.

Ben Houchen, the elected Conservative mayor for the Tees Valley Combined Authority, has joined a cross-party group of political leaders and businesses which is demanding control of a cash pot they say is worth to demand control of a pot of cash they say is worth £2.4billion a year

The group has called on the Government to devolve the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), which is to fund projects currently backed financially by the EU after the UK leaves, away from Westminster.

Mr Houchen said that Brexit must not mean "another Whitehall power grab".

"The needs of places like Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, with lower pay and stubborn unemployment rates, need to be front and centre of any new fund to support economic growth," he said.

"If the people of the Tees Valley can't fill the jobs which we create, the places they live won't benefit - then the full benefits of economic resurgence will be lost to those who most need them."

He added: "Post-Brexit, we need to ensure that EU funding comes directly back to metro mayors so we can direct investment most effectively to meet the needs of local people and local businesses."

Labour mayors in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool and Sheffield city regions, Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Dan Jarvis, are also part of the group.

They argue that the Brexit idea for the UK to "take back control" must mean "substantial devolution of power and resources out of Westminster to the English regions".

They said that while the UK's employment rate has recently hit a record high and some cities are thriving, "some places remain locked out of this success story".

A new report released on Monday by the social development charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says that EU Structural Funds and Government match funding are worth £2.4billion a year, and the SPF should match that sum.

Control should be devolved to local administrations, in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and areas of England that receive them.

They should also be allocated based on an area's employment rate and average earnings, it recommended.

In July the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss told MPs the SPF would be set up with a remit to tackle inequalities between different parts of the country by taking action to raise productivity in disadvantaged areas.

The Government has already agreed to underwrite funding for UK organisations receiving EU funds for projects agreed before the official date of Brexit in March 2019.

Ms Truss's announcement extended this to the end of the transition period in December 2020.

As well as the metro mayors, the call for decentralisation of the SPF has been backed by business groups including the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is chaired by the former chancellor George Osborne, and the NP11 Board, which represents 11 local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) in the north of England.

Mr Jarvis said: "As we get set to leave the European Union in March next year, it is critical that the Government reaffirm their commitment to devolution by giving elected mayors control of a fair share of the money that used to be sent to Brussels."