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Brexit could cost councils in Kent millions of pounds

Brexit could lead to councils in Kent losing vital EU funding to boost economic investment and regeneration of poorer areas, the government has been told.

Council chiefs have sounded a warning shot about the uncertainty it could mean for dozens of schemes and projects currently reliant on such funding.

Some of the county's most deprived communities in areas like Dover, Thanet and Swale have benefited to the tune of tens of millions of pounds in recent years from a range of different programmes.

Symbol of Brexit, the Banksy Mural in Dover
Symbol of Brexit, the Banksy Mural in Dover

The government has set out plans for what it has dubbed a "Shared Prosperity Fund" to compensate for the loss of EU grants but has yet to flesh out details of its scheme or consult with councils.

Kevin Bentley, who chairs the Local Government Association’s Brexit taskforce chair, said: "Brexit cannot leave local areas facing huge financial uncertainty as a result of lost regional aid.

"This funding has been used by local areas to create jobs, support small and medium enterprises, deliver skills training, and invest in critical transport and digital infrastructure and boost inclusive growth across the country."

Council leaders have also queried where the government intends to find the money to replace the lost EU funds.

They say other commitments made by the government which are to be met by the Treasury’s £26 billion fiscal headroom means they could lose out.

European Union flags in a row waving in front of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg
European Union flags in a row waving in front of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg

But Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, said on a visit to Kent last week to drum up support for Boris Johnson: "We do have the shared prosperity fund that we will be launching shortly so there will be funding to cover these areas but of course we won’t be sending money to the EU so there is money to be drawn from UK coffers."

KCC Green county councillor Martin Whybrow said: "The EU has been a vital source of funding for KCC and regional and local organisations, including educational and not-for-profits.

"Indeed, KCC has had a dedicated Brussels office focused solely on attracting funding to the county.

"This has been ever more important as central government money has dried up and has enabled some creative and worthwhile projects, including to improve the environment and benefit biodiversity.

"It is symptomatic of central government’s seeming contempt for local government and its vital services that, once more, there appears to be neither the urgency nor even the understanding that this needs to be addressed.

Martin Whybrow
Martin Whybrow

"The downsides of Brexit are many and this is another example."

A report by KCC on the funding it gets from the EU last year underlined the potential impact that withdrawal of funding after 2020 could have.

It revealed that there were 47 projects in the county which together had been funded to the tune of £82m.

“There is considerable uncertainty about what arrangements might replace EU funding after the UK leaves the EU,” the report said.

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