We need to focus on one crisis at a time – extending the Brexit transition period is the sensible course of action

The East of Scotland European Consortium (ESEC), representing 7 local authorities, is calling for an extension to the transition period during which the UK stays in the single market and customs union while discussions take place on the long term relationship with the EU.

With the deadline for being able to agree an extension to the Brexit transition period fast approaching, ESEC chair Will Dawson said: “We welcome the joint statement which says that Brexit talks will be intensified in July and both sides will pursue a new momentum, however we are disappointed that the UK Government has unilaterally ruled out an extension to the transition period.

“The UK and the EU need to conclude a deal by the end of October, so there is enough time for the agreement to be ratified. If there is no deal by this date, then more local government resources would have to be diverted to preparing for the inevitable economic fallout. Our officers had preparations for dealing with the threat of a no deal Brexit added to their roles on three separate occasions over the course of 2019. Many of these same officers are now working to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus crisis. We are already in the frying pan, adding in the threat of a no deal Brexit means we are thrown into the fire.

“The UK has asked for an extension to the Article 50 process three times, despite the Prime Minister’s assurances that he would rather “die in a ditch” than do so. The difference this time is that the Article 50 process is over and we are now in the transition period. There can be no panicked requests for an extension at the 11th hour this time around. Instead, the formal request must be made 6 months ahead of the transition deadline – by 30th June 2020. Cool heads must prevail.

“It is the position of the Scottish and Welsh Governments that the UK Government should request an extension. It is also the position of COSLA, the national body which represents local government in Scotland.

 “We are of the position that the UK Government must agree an extension to prevent economic catastrophe for our communities. It would not be a sign of weakness but a sign of responsible and mature governance.”

New immigration proposals will be catastrophic for the local economy

The proposals have got it wrong – ‘low pay’ does not equal low skill or low value

The proposals from the UK government on introducing a salary threshold of £25,600 will badly hit local businesses and public sector bodies, according to research from the East of Scotland European Consortium (ESEC), a partnership of 7 local authorities.

The proposed salary level of £25,600 for new immigrants coming to the UK, along with other requirements such as already having a job offer, will create barriers for local companies wishing to recruit from a diverse talent pool of potential workers. According to figures from the Scottish Parliament, the average salary in Scotland in 2018 for all employees was £23,833, and 53% of workers earned less than £25,000. In occupations in important sectors such as social care, tourism, hospitality and childcare, almost no jobs will qualify for the proposed salary threshold.

In terms of agriculture, the UK Government has stated that the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme will be quadrupled, from 2,500 to 10,000 workers. But Scotland needs – at a conservative estimate – at least 9,255. The National Farmers’ Union estimates that 70,000 seasonal workers are needed across the whole of the UK. That’s a shortage of 60,000. Local farmers have already reported a shortfall of seasonal workers since the Brexit vote, leading to produce being left to rot in fields.

In October 2019, the Scottish Government published a 25-year population projection, which predicts that there will be 240,000 more pensioners, an increase of 23.2%, while the working population will reduce by 7,000. The only population increase will come from inward migration. In a scenario of zero future EU migration, the population would be expected to peak in mid-2028 at 5.49 million and would decline thereafter. 14 local authority areas, mostly rural, are already experiencing a population decline.

Councillor Will Dawson, chair of ESEC, stressed his concerns around the new proposals: “We have thoroughly researched the impact of salary thresholds on our local economy, which we have shared with the Migration Advisory Committee. Looking at the reactions to the government’s proposals, I have not come across one single positive reaction from any industry body. I also completely reject the use of the term ‘cheap labour’ when talking about valued workers who contribute to the economy and our local communities. The proposals have got it wrong – so-called ‘low pay’ does not equal low skill or low value.”

Ends

If you require further information, please contact:  Joanne Scobie, ESEC EU Officer, at joanne.scobie@dundeecity.gov.uk  

Editor’s Notes

  1. Established in 1991, the East of Scotland European Consortium (ESEC) is a local authority membership organisation with a political board which collaborates on a shared EU agenda and supports economic development in the area. The seven members of the ESEC are Aberdeen City, Angus, Dundee, Falkirk, Fife, Perth & Kinross and Stirling Councils. Visit www.esec.org.uk for more information
  2. ESEC’s submission to the Migration Advisory Committee on salary thresholds and a points-based immigration system – http://www.esec.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/filebase/ESEC-response-to-MAC-consultation-on-immigration_2.pdf
  3. Scottish Government’s population predictions – https://www.gov.scot/news/scotlands-population-projections/

Latest news

SAVE THE DATE: Workshop on the future of Interreg/European Territorial Cooperation

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Purpose of the event

The Scottish Government is organising a series of workshops of the future of European Territorial Cooperation Programmes, also known as the Interreg and Urbact programmes. This is an excellent opportunity for organisations who have previously taken part in these programmes, or those interested in Scotland’s future relationship with other countries, to makes their views heard. The areas the Scottish Government are especially keen to understand better are:

  • What are stakeholders’ interests in working with other countries through future European Territorial Cooperation programmes?
  • If necessary, what areas or partner countries should Scottish stakeholders prioritise?

The Scottish Government will also provide stakeholders with an update on the work they are doing regarding Interreg, and planned next steps.

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What are European Territorial Cooperation Programmes?

Scotland currently takes part in seven different European Territorial Cooperation programmes. These programmes give funding to organisations from different countries to work together on projects which help achieve the aims of the programme. Typically these projects support partners in undertaking joint activities in tackling shared problems and challenges. Since 2014, there have been approximately 140 projects approved in Scotland, worth almost €70 million. See here for examples of Interreg projects being delivered across our area.

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What about post-Brexit?

Non-EU countries like Norway currently take part in European Territorial Cooperation programmes.  Therefore, provided there is an agreement in place between the UK Government and the EU, the UK could continue to be part of these programmes post 2020. The Scottish Government values the opportunities that European Territorial Cooperation Programmes give organisations in Scotland and is committed to continuing to take part. However, the UK Government has yet to make a commitment to taking part in European Territorial Cooperation Programmes post 2020.

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Register via the following links:

Time running out to agree on post-Brexit funding

Scottish organisations still in the dark on what will replace almost €1b in EU Structural Funds

ESEC chair Councillor Will Dawson has written to Liz Truss MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in order to seek assurances in relation to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), the financial framework which the UK Government has confirmed will replace EU Structural Funds. Structural Funds in Scotland are worth up to €941 million from 2014-20 for use in economic development. It has also been confirmed by the government that final decisions on the fund are due to be made at the Spending Review, which is expected this autumn.

In the letter, Cllr Dawson shared the concerns felt strongly among local authorities regarding the delay to the consultation on the SPF, which was expected by the end of 2018 but which never materialised. Even if the consultation was launched by the end of this month, and assuming it is open for twelve weeks, that would leave only a couple of months for the government to review the responses and draft a programme incorporating the expertise and recommendations contained in the submissions.

Furthermore, the letter stressed that any further delay could lead to a loss of skills and expertise, as current employees consider their future prospects. As the existing programmes come to a conclusion, including ERDF, ESF, EMFF and LEADER, staff working with these funds are in the dark as to what comes next. If the UK Government does not provide information on the successor programme, and soon, then there is the potential of losing a lot of very knowledgeable people who will seek opportunities elsewhere.

Commenting on the urgency of the situation and the need for the UK Government to act, Cllr Dawson said “No matter your views on Brexit, there can be no doubt that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund offers a genuine opportunity to deliver a programme which is free of the bureaucracy of its predecessor programmes and which has a simplified administrative structure, making it accessible to all, while addressing both need and opportunity. Therefore it is a matter of huge importance that the consultation process is thorough, and genuine, and incorporates the recommendations of those delivering EU-funded projects. We therefore urge the government launch the consultation as a matter of priority.”

ESEC welcomes parliamentary report on UK Shared Prosperity Fund

The East of Scotland European Consortium (ESEC) welcomes the report on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Post-Brexit funding for Nations, Regions and Local Areas.

In the period of 2014-20, Scotland will have received €476 million from the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) and €465 million from the European Social Fund (ESF). The UK government has proposed that the Shared Prosperity Fund replaces this investment, but as of yet there has been no further detail on the allocation, management, or delivery.

The APPG report is positive and recognises the expertise of local authorities in delivering EU-funded projects for the benefit or their communities. We would like to highlight the following recommendations from the report as being in line with our own position:

  • The budget for the UKSPF needs to be no less, in real terms, than the EU funding it replaces. This would be £1.5 billion a year, but just for ESF and ERDF. To also cover the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the budget would need to be proportionally larger; in addition, the existing shares for the four nations of the UK should be rolled forward.
  • The UKSPF should operate on the basis of multi-annual financial allocations to allow for the proper planning and implementation of projects; lengthy financial allocations of this kind do not fit neatly with UK Spending Reviews but in the context of regional and local economic development there is considerable merit in lengthier spending programmes.
  • The UK Government should not earmark parts of the pot for specific areas within the devolved nations – the allocation of funding to local areas should be a devolved matter;
  • There should be no role for competition between areas for funding as this is as a waste of time and resource for those delivering projects;
  • Local partners should be given flexibility to define the types of projects on which the UKSPF is spent, as long as the activities remain consistent with the wider objectives of the Fund;
  • EU funding can be very bureaucratic and there is a strong need to simplify administrative processes; government departments need to devolve more responsibility (and trust) to local players such as local authorities, especially where well-proven administrative structures are in place.

We look forward to responding to the UK government’s own consultation when it is launched later this year, and we hope some of these recommendations are reflected in the content.

To read the report and the individual submissions, including that of ESEC, please see here – https://www.postbrexitappg.org/

FIFE COUNCIL URGES UK GOVERNMENT TO STAY IN INTERREG POST-BREXIT

Fife joins Dundee and Angus Councils in calling on government to stay in Interreg post-Brexit

Fife Council has adopted a motion in support of the United Kingdom remaining in the EU Interreg funding programme post-Brexit. The motion, which was approved unanimously, remits the council’s chief executive to write to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Dominic Raab, in support of Interreg and to urge the UK government to commit to participating in the programme as a non-EU country. It follows similar motions which were recently approved by Dundee City and Angus Councils.

Interreg facilitates cooperation across borders and allows local authorities to research best practice, pilot new approaches and implement new policies by working with other organisations across the EU and other participating non-EU members. It is funded via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Since 2014, there have been 112 approved projects across Scotland with a total grant value of almost €58,000,000.

Fife Council is currently involved in 3 Interreg projects – CLIPPER, uNEET and RIGHT. The CLIPPER project is working to better support SMEs in the maritime sector as they diversify and change business practice to tackle new opportunities such as offshore renewable energy. The uNEET project aims to tackle the unemployment of young people and to respond to the recruitment difficulties faced by companies in the hospitality sector. The RIGHT project aims to design and test educational and training programmes to bridge the skills gap in a fast changing skills environment in emerging and growth sectors. The projects are worth a combined EU grant of approximately £650,000 to Fife Council. Other organisations to have received Interreg funding include Dundee and Angus College, the James Hutton Institute, the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Abertay University and NHS Scotland.

The motion was proposed by Councillor Altany Craik, the council’s representative on the board of the East of Scotland European Consortium (ESEC). Councillor Craik said “The motion was passed unopposed and without amendment which is a testament to the value of Interreg to our businesses and communities. The EU recognises the expertise which UK organisations bring to Interreg and has already confirmed we would be welcomed into the programme post-Brexit, the UK Government remains the only player in this field yet to confirm their position and we therefore call on them to do so with immediate effect.”

Text of Fife Council motion (motion 5) – https://www.fifedirect.org.uk/uploadfiles/publications/c64_AgendaPapersFC041018.pdf