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Leaving the EU: Local Authority Funding

Volume 658: debated on Monday 8 April 2019

1. What financial support the Government are allocating to local authorities to help them prepare for the UK leaving the EU. (910260)

We have made £58 million available to support local authorities’ preparations for Brexit, and £20 million has already been distributed to all local authorities in England to undertake preparatory work, with another £20 million to follow. Also, £3.14 million has been allocated to 19 local authorities facing immediate impacts from ports.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the Select Committee report published last week that highlighted that local authorities should have new burdens funded in full. It also highlighted the fact that port authorities such as Portsmouth needed substantially more than the average of £136,000 that is being granted to ports. Portsmouth would need £4 million in the case of a no-deal scenario. Will the Secretary of State undertake to provide that funding and to reimburse any costs that have been spent on no deal that have proved to be unnecessary?

I note the right hon. Gentleman’s approach, and I am interested in the fact that he is perhaps now interested in delivering Brexit, even though everything he has said thus far suggests that his party is trying to stop it. I take on board what he has said. This is why we have made funding available to ports such as Portsmouth, and discussions have taken place between Portsmouth and the Department for Transport. He also raised the broader issue of support for local authorities, and this is why we remain in close contact with local government and why we still have £10 million available for any immediate pressures that may emerge in the forthcoming year.

Councils have been preparing for a range of issues. As we leave the European Union, changes to regulations might be required and training and support might be needed, as well as contingency planning so that we have a smooth transition from where we are today to leaving the European Union.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) is another mentee of the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne).

19. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his colleagues in the Cabinet Office about supporting local authorities that are facing the prospect of running European parliamentary elections? Is it not the case that the best way to avoid all these contingencies is to have as long an extension as possible in order to have a people’s vote and put the deal back to the people? (910280)

I am interested to hear that response from the Scottish National party. I hope that it will be able to guarantee that all moneys that have been given to Scotland are actually being spent on Brexit preparations. As I understand it, no guarantees on funding have been given to councils. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been in contact with the Electoral Commission in relation to those preparations, but I hope that we will be able to avoid holding European elections.

I hear what the Secretary of State says, but when I talk to my local councils, they seem to have an endless stream of directives coming from the centre but very little guidance as to what to do if significant numbers of their staff suddenly decide to go. What contingency preparations are the Government making to support local councils in the care sector, for instance, if those people suddenly are not here next week?

I hope I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance in relation to the regular and detailed contact we have had with local councils through the ministerial delivery board, which I chair, and through representatives of local government. We also have regular contact with the nine chief executives around the country. We are giving clear advice to assure EU workers of their ability to stay and information on the settled status scheme that the Home Office has put together.

Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell MSP has confirmed that moneys allocated to Scotland through Barnett consequentials have been distributed primarily to meet the costs of work already being done by local government in Scotland. The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has said that the UK Government are not giving sufficient support to local government for Brexit. As the chaos of Brexit unfolds and local government continues to identify need, can the Secretary of State confirm whether Westminster will bring forward new moneys to meet that need, because the £10 million that he has mentioned is but a drop in the ocean? Local government and the Scottish Government should not be left out of pocket by the UK Tory Government’s incompetence.

I am sorry—the hon. Lady has I think set out a request for further funding, but my understanding is only £27 million of the initial £37 million allocated to Scotland was spent, and that none was given to councils. Perhaps she can clarify the priority and intent of the SNP in Scotland to ensure that Scotland is well prepared.

Can the Secretary of State not understand the scepticism about his comments, not just from the Select Committee but from many Members on both sides of the House? After all, it was his Department that left bidding for Brexit contingency funding to the very last minute, it was his Department that diverted council funding away from some of the most deprived communities in England, and it was his botched announcement on the Stronger Towns fund that has left many of those communities feeling left behind. Can he now, without any spin or bluster, confirm to the House whether the most deprived communities in England will see a share of the shared prosperity fund that, pound for pound, is less than, equal to or greater than the share of the European structural development fund it replaces?

Before responding to the hon. Gentleman’s question, may I say how pleased I am to hear that his grandson is now recovering and returning to full health? I am sure that the whole House will cherish and treasure the fact that that young child is back on the road to recovery.

The hon. Gentleman highlights broader issues on preparation. I have already underlined the extensive work that we have done with local government. I look forward to consulting on the UK’s shared prosperity fund in detail. Those allocations will be allocated and set out through the spending review. I hope even now that his community will apply for funding through the Stronger Towns fund so that it gets the support it requires.