County leaders fear threat to £100m in EU schemes

Schemes to protect areas of Lanashire from flooding could be under threat along with other investment plans using EU money, say leaders
Schemes to protect areas of Lanashire from flooding could be under threat along with other investment plans using EU money, say leaders
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BUSINESS and political leaders fear that £100m in funding could be lost thanks to Brexit.

Despite the Government promising to guarantee EU funding due to end when the UK pulls out, they fear a time limit and conditions imposed by Chancellor Philip Hammond mean Lancashire may still miss out.

The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and members of the proposed Lancashire Combined Authority have now written to the Chancellor for assurances that major projects for jobs training and infrastructure already agreed by the EU will still go ahead.

LEP head Edwin Booth and Simon Blackburn, chairman of the shadow Lancashire Combined Authority, are concerned projects funded by the European Structural and Investment Fund may be cut.

This could kill off such projects as vital flood mitigation, the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas, the business fund Boost, which it was hoped would continue to 2020, and Lancaster University’s Health Innovation Campus which could create 3,000 jobs.

And they say Lancashire’s efficiency with previous funds is in danger of being used as an excuse to divert the cash elsewhere in the UK.

They have received support from Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden who warned support for economic and employment schemes are under serious threat.

He said: “The Government must stop dithering.

“There are serious concerns that some important projects, with already secured funding under the European Structural and Investment Fund concerning jobs, investment funding for further education and Universities could be lost if they are not agreed by the cut off date.”

The European Structural and Investment Fund planned to grant areas in England £5.3bn up to 2020, but leaving the EU calls into question how much of that cash will arrive.

Chancellor Mr Hammond said in August that he would guarantee to fully fund agreed projects – as long as they are signed before next month’s Autumn Statement.

But the Local Government Association believes up to £2.6bn could be denied because it will not be agreed before the cut-off.

In the letter Mr Booth and Mr Blackburn say: “Despite strong progress in delivering new growth and renewal plans in recent years, Lancashire is still grappling with major regeneration challenges.

“However, the uncertainty created by the recent EU referendum result has placed over £100m in EU funding at risk in an area which currently includes five of England’s 30 most deprived local authority areas – Blackpool, Blackburn, Burnley, Hyndburn and Pendle.

“Lancashire has over £100m still to be committed, which we fear may not be covered by your recent funding guarantee. We have been told that due to our strong performance Lancashire is not an immediate priority for calls and that the focus will be on other areas that are performing less well. From Lancashire’s perspective, our perceived success is being used as an argument for holding back the delivery.”