'Levelling up' plans will mean reduced resources and control for Northern Ireland, says Farry

The UK Government’s ‘levelling up’ plans will mean reduced resources and control for Northern Ireland, Alliance MP Stephen Farry has said.

The North Down MP was speaking after the announcement by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, which aims to improve services such as education and transport by 2030. Dr Farry said there would be negative implications locally, due to reduced funding compared to EU structural funds.

“The so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda is a fraud when it comes to Northern Ireland,” he said.

“There is a lot of spin but little substance. It means fewer resources for our region and less control for the devolved structures. The Shared Prosperity Fund has been billed as the replacement for EU structural funds. These were used to support a broad range of skills, innovation and social inclusion interventions. Indeed, these have been central to supporting areas such as apprenticeships and disability employment.

“Contrary to promises, Northern Ireland is facing a shortfall of £70 million per annum. While we know the budget, there is still no detail on how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work. Local stakeholders are urgently seeking answers on this. There is no guarantee the fund will even address the same areas as covered by EU funds. But especially in the context of a difficult budget, this reduction means difficult choices and inevitable cuts by the Executive.

“All of the replacement funds should be controlled by the Executive. The centralised approach means the allocation of scarce resources will be disjointed, at risk of duplication and waste, and not properly aligned to an outcome-based Programme for Government.

“Speaking as a former Minister for Employment and Learning with responsibility for the European Social Fund, we had far more local control under the EU than under this Government. So much for ‘take back control’.”