London still ignoring calls for meaningful role in EU replacement funds - Murphy

Finance Minister Conor Murphy. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

FINANCE Minister Conor Murphy has said the UK Government is still ignoring calls from the devolved administrations for a meaningful role in how replacement funding for EU aid is spent.

It comes as The Irish News revealed how an Oxfordshire-based call centre was Northern Ireland's biggest cash recipient from the UK Community Renewal Fund (CRF), one of the new London-controlled schemes set up to replace EU structural funding.

Despite having no physical operation in the north, Banbury-based TieTa UK, which was originally set up as call centre for a payday lender, was awarded £1.82 million, more than double the amount awarded to the second largest recipient.

Managed by the Department for Levelling Up in London, the CRF has been described as a precursor to the new Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), which the UK Government is planning to roll out this spring as the long-term replacement to EU structural funding.

Unlike the previous practice, where Stormont had much more hands on control of where EU funds were directed, the Department for Levelling Up will oversee the new SPF, with the devolved administrations reduced to a consolatory role.

But London's handling of the CRF process has only served to heighten concerns.

Unlike in England, Scotland and Wales, where local authorities took charge of applications, the CRF was opened up to any applicant in north, with no requirement that they be based here.

The Department for levelling Up has said it took that approach “to ensure that all communities had equal opportunity to apply”.

Officials at the Department for the Economy (DfE) have also expressed their concern that the new funding models are not aligning with the old, resulting in significant funding gaps.

DfE typically saw around £65m of EU funds flow through its books each year.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance said engagement is ongoing with Michael Gove's Department for Levelling Up on the preparatory work for a draft investment plan in respect of the SPF.

“The department continues to make the case that any investment plan is tailored to local circumstances and provides full replacement for the funds lost as a result of EU Exit,” said a spokesperson.

“While input has been sought, this fund will only be successful if a co-design and co-delivery approach is taken and the NI Government is given a substantive role in the delivery of this fund.”

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