Brexit funding promises for councils branded an 'insult' after officials concede it isn't new money

PUBLISHED: 13:42 03 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:48 03 August 2019

Chancellor Sajid Javid and home secretary Priti Patel during their visit to Tilbury Dock. Photograph: Alex Lentati/Evening Standard/PA Wire.

Chancellor Sajid Javid and home secretary Priti Patel during their visit to Tilbury Dock. Photograph: Alex Lentati/Evening Standard/PA Wire.

The new communities secretary's funding pledge to help councils step up Brexit preparations has been branded an "insult".

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Robert Jenrick committed £20 million to be shared between all 353 English councils while calling for them to appoint a Brexit lead to ensure they are ready to leave by the Halloween deadline.

But, despite the sum being billed as "new", the department conceded that the full amount had already been proposed in previous announcements.

Jenrick, who was appointed by Boris Johnson in his cabinet reshuffle, said it was right to "intensify preparations" so councils can be prepared to leave by October 31 "whatever the circumstances".

Labour MP Jess Phillips criticised the government for spending £138 million on the "no-deal propaganda" of a public information campaign and a fraction on councils' preparations for the "calamity".

"The idea that £20 million across the 353 main councils of England is enough to prepare is an insult to our intelligence and to the hard work of public servants struggling with the consequences of the government's decision to force a vicious Brexit on us," she said.

Councils across the country welcomed the funding but highlighted the shortfall they are already facing.

The Local Government Association's Brexit task force chairman Kevin Bentley said: "With councils already facing a funding gap of more than £3 billion in 2019/20, it is more important now than ever that councils receive the resources they need for their ongoing Brexit preparations.

"There remains information and advice gaps that councils are facing while helping their communities prepare, which need to be met by the government.

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"Councils also need certainty to plan for their communities over the longer term, such as on the domestic replacement for EU funding."

Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne criticised the sum pledged.

"This offers no new money and no new ideas for how to address the cliff edge councils are facing," the Labour MP said.

"Under the Tories, 60p out of every £1 that the last Labour government invested in our councils has been cut - with the most deprived parts of the country hit the hardest."

Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine added: "This extra money is a drop in the ocean for cash-strapped councils desperately concerned about what no-deal Brexit will mean for crucial public services in their areas."

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said half the pledged funding comes from Chancellor Sajid Javid's £2.1 billion announcement on Thursday.

The other half comes from funding announced by the department in January, she added.

It is not yet known how the sum will be divided between each of the 353 councils and combined authorities.

Jenrick said: "Local government has a vital role in helping to make Brexit a success and it is absolutely right that together we intensify preparations in every community.

"And to do this successfully I have asked every council to appoint a Brexit lead to work with Government. We'll be providing £20 million for councils to support the major step up in preparations.

"I want all of us - central and local government - to be fully prepared for leaving the EU on October 31 whatever the circumstances."

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