SWANSEA and the surrounding region must not be any worse off when the UK leaves the European Union, council leader Rob Stewart has said.
The city’s Labour leader said he has asked for a meeting with Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, to seek reassurances.
Councillor Stewart said Wales was a net beneficiary of EU funding, per head of population, and that he was concerned about how a proposed replacement funding scheme put forward by the UK Government would work.
The replacement scheme, called the Shared Prosperity Fund, aims to replace various EU funding streams – totalling £2.1bn per year for the UK – and, like the current EU money, reduce inequalities between regions.
“Unless we get reassurances very shortly that the Shared Prosperity Fund will provide like-for-like funding then I still remain concerned,” said Cllr Stewart, addressing a council scrutiny meeting. “I want that clarity as quickly as possible. They could have given us an outline by now.” He added: “The UK is a net contributor [to the EU]. Wales and this region is a net beneficiary – that may not work in the future. We need to make sure that we are not a penny worse off.”
The Swansea Labour leader felt the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a “lesser deal” than that of his predecessor Theresa May and said he was concerned that the UK side had rowed back on workers’ rights protections it had previously offered.
He added: “If it’s a bad deal then Boris carries the can.”
On January 31 the UK will move into an 11-month transition period when it must abide by EU rules and keeping paying into the EU budget.
Mr Johnson has said the transition period must end at the end of December 2020.
Swansea opposition leader Cllr Chris Holley said he felt there was widespread concern about the planned Shared Prosperity Fund.
“I’m really concerned that south west Wales is not going to get its fair share,” he said.
Cllr Stewart and Cllr Holley also said they wanted more detail on UK Government proposals which could see Treasury rules re-drafted in order to shift more infrastructure spending away from the densely-populated south-east of England towards less affluent areas.
This, in theory, could benefit Wales, which has previously lost out on big schemes because the Treasury’s cost-benefit ratio calculations didn’t stack up.
Cllr Stewart said an example of this was the Swansea Bay City Region not even being allowed to apply for super-fast broadband funding because the population of its four constituent councils was not dense enough.
He said the council will keep its Brexit preparations “live” in the coming months and that EU workers employed by the authority had been given “settled status” advice about remaining in the UK. “I think we have identified everyone that could be affected,” said Cllr Stewart. “It gets harder with commissioned services.”
Wales’ Counsel General and Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles has also called for more detail on the Shared Prosperity Fund and said in the Senedd on Tuesday that it would be “unacceptable” if the Welsh Government was not allowed to take decisions about this funding.