Tees mayor Ben Houchen has joined forces with his counterparts from across the UK to call on government to fully devolve a proposed £2.4billion funding stream after Brexit.
At a meeting in Bristol, the eight directly elected Metro Mayors have urged Government to further strengthen their commitment to devolution and empower them to do what they know best, prioritising local funding that creates jobs for local people and opportunities for local businesses.
The meeting follows the government’s promise to introduce the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace the EU Structural Fund and Local Growth Fund when the UK leaves the European Union next year.
Tees Valley Combined Authority currently receives £25m in European Structural and Investment Funds each year.
The cross-party group of Metro mayors have come together to ensure that the UK’s regions ultimately take back control of funding decisions, which were once in Brussels, rather than the powers languishing in Whitehall amidst red tape and bureaucracy.
Mayor Houchen said: “Brexit presents a real opportunity to empower local regions and local people, and we need to grasp these opportunities with both hands.
“For the people I represent, Brexit won’t feel like Brexit if we take back control from Brussels bureaucrats, just to give it to almost equally remote politicians and civil servants in London.
“So what I don’t want to see is another Whitehall power grab when we leave next year. We therefore need to ensure that EU funding comes directly back to local Mayors so we can direct investment most effectively to meet the needs of local people and local businesses.
“We also have to dispel the myth that the funds we receive from the EU is EU money. It isn’t. This is British taxpayers’ money recycled back to us with a whole host of strings attached.”
Those present at the meeting alongside mayor Houchen were Tim Bowles, representing West of England; Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester; Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region; Andy Street, West Midlands, James Palmer, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire & Dan Jarvis, Sheffield City Region. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was not able to attend but joined the call from the Mayors.
In a joint statement calling on Government, the mayors said: “As the most powerful group of the directly elected regional leaders as a unified voice, we call on the government to grasp these opportunities to re-focus on the devolution agenda and provide regions with the powers & funding needed to ensure economic growth and prosperity.”