Senior councillors have voiced concerns that the post-Brexit shared prosperity fund will be allocated to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) rather than councils.
During meetings today of both the Local Government Association’s councillors’ forum and executive, some councillors said they had been led to believe by Ministry of Housing, Community & Local Government officials or their local LEP that the fund would not be distributed through councils.
In a written statement in July last year, housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire said the priorities set out in local industrial strategies developed by LEPs and combined authorities “will help local areas decide on their approach to maximising the long-term impact of [the shared prosperity fund]”.
Mr Brokenshire, who today spoke at the councillors forum but was not challenged on the issue, also at the time promised a consultation on how the fund, worth up to £2.4bn a year, would operate by “the end of the year”. It is yet to be launched.
During the councillors’ forum, some attendees called for clarification as briefings from MHCLG officals and discussions with their local LEPs had caused confusion.
LGA chair Gary Porter (Con) responded by saying: “Until I hear the secretary of state say otherwise, I am going to assume it is going through local government. We have never discussed this going through LEPs. We are not having it.”
Later during the executive meeting Martin Tett (Con), chairman of the LGA’s environment, economy, housing and transport board, said the LGA should state its position on the distribution of the shared prosperity fund before the consultation is launched.
He said: “On my LEP board, there has been an inference that the funding will go to the LEPs themselves.
“Where does the LGA stand on this? Is [the funding distributed] down to individual councils, or is it by pooling? Do we accept LEP areas?
“There is a danger that if we leave it to the consultation, then actually some of this would already have been determined.”
Kevin Bentley (Con), chair of the LGA’s Brexit taskforce, said: “If all the money went to LEPs that would be a matter of concern.” He agreed that the LGA should state its position ahead of the consultation.
In January, the ministry’s permanent secretary Melanie Dawes told MPs the reason there had been no detailed proposals for the operation of the shared prosperity fund was because the approach to the fund would be different depending on the terms under which the UK leaves the EU.
A MHCLG spokesperson said: “This government is striving for prosperity for all of the UK, both now and after Brexit.
“We will work closely with local partners who are best placed to help deliver a programme of investment in our communities that will boost local economies and benefit hardworking people.”