Leader comment: Loss of EU funding would hit vulnerable communities

Much has been written and debated about the implications of Brexit in Scotland. Many concerns have quite rightly focused on issues like freedom of movement, the impact on investment into Scotland and the ability of businesses to maintain access to the single European market.

EU funding has been critical to road building projects in the Highlands and islands.

It is probably fair to say the impact of the referendum vote on Scotland’s local authorities, who voted unanimously in support of staying in the EU before the vote, has not been particularly high on the agenda in the last few months.

However the revelation that these authorities are set to lose out on around £46 million a year in EU funding should act as something of a wake-up call for communities the length and breadth of the country.

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Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has used Freedom of Information legislation to discover that £127 million has been ploughed into major infrastructure schemes and community projects over the past four years.

He believes the figures demonstrate the scale of the “material threat” posed by the Brexit vote and has challenged the UK and Scottish Governments to spell out exactly how the loss of this funding will be mitigated.

The loss of almost £50 million a year from local authorities will make an enormous difference to the lives of people, particularly in the more remote parts of Scotland, where EU funding has been transformational.

Many major infrastructure projects in the likes of the Highlands, the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney would simply not have happened without EU funding. In many cases, these improvements have simply been about securing better connections between A and B, which are of vital importance to the prospects of economic success. The fact this funding is under threat will be of serious concern to these areas and they simply cannot be forgotten about.

They clearly stand to lose out if Scotland’s cannot access the single market, and if the development of their own infrastructure is left at a standstill then they are facing a decidedly bleak future.

Local authorities are clearly anxious that promises made during the referendum campaign over EU funding are kept, but we have seen already how worthless - or empty - many of thiose statements were. Council leaders across the UK recently made clear they want a guarantee in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement that they will receive their full share of EU funding by 2020 to prevent flagship infrastructure projects from stalling. They also want to discuss the opportunity to design a successor scheme, in partnership with local government, the higher education sector and business.

It is clearly not going to be easy for the UK Government to find £46m a year for Scottish local authorities, but anyone who has lived or worked in the more remote parts of Scotland knows that this EU funding has been vital and will need to be maintained for years to come if our most fragile communities are to stand a chance of prospering in the post-Brexit era.