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6 April 2016updated 27 Jul 2021 9:03am

For cities like mine, Brexit has a price they can’t afford

The North East will bear the brunt of the consequences if Britain leaves the European Union, warns Nick Forbes. 

By Nick Forbes

As the council leader of Newcastle City Council, job creation underpins my every aim in the city.  It is both as simple and as important as that.  I know that in every service we deliver, and in every bit of planning and strategy we produce, it all has to build towards a sustainable growing economy that brings opportunity for local residents.  And it’s this same focus on building a vibrant and prosperous local economy that means I’ll be voting to remain in the EU referendum in June.

From developing local businesses and jobs, to protecting working people and supporting our health and environment, Britain’s EU membership is vital to the places we serve.  If we leave Europe, it is our communities that will be hardest hit, and the futures of our local people that will be put at risk.

In Newcastle, since I became leader in 2011 we have spent years working to defy the effects of the economic downturn and spending cuts imposed by Westminster.  We’ve done this by creating the infrastructure for growth, be it building offices or bike lanes, and finding new ways to secure the investment opportunities that underpin thousands of jobs across the city. Look at the skyline in Newcastle and you see cranes because we are building for business. Look at the roads and you see we are investing in making it easier to get around the city.  But economic growth in the UK’s major cities would be put at risk by Brexit.  

Between 2014-2020 the North East’s stands to benefit from £205 million of European Regional Development Fund money which will provide 50 per cent of the revenue or capital funding to support investment in innovation, businesses, low carbon and climate change projects and create jobs.  The EU is by far the UK’s largest trading partner and the world’s largest single market; half of our exports go to EU countries, worth £227 billion in 2014 to the UK economy, and over 200,000 British companies export to the EU.  The economic damage that leaving the EU would bring would wreak havoc on our local businesses and make it harder than ever for Councils to deliver the services people rely on. 

The economies of our core cities have undergone radical transformation since the days when tens of thousands of people did back breaking manual jobs in heavy industry. We now have a modern, diverse, economy with strong companies and sectors, including offshore engineering, professional services and the digital sector.  Right now Newcastle and other major cities are growing and have a bright future.  The recent downturn threatened to derail our aspirations but Brexit could kill them almost entirely.

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Local councils have already had to make substantial cuts to their budgets over the last 6 years and leaving the EU will represent a further funding black hole.  The government’s decision to devolve business rates relies on economic growth and so the disastrous economic effects of Brexit could mean catastrophe for our councils’ ability to deliver the services people rely on as our income would simply fall through the floor.

In almost every area of council work, leaving the EU would have a negative impact.  In a reformed EU, the UK’s major cities can be the drivers of a new prosperity and opportunity that leads to greater equality and a more socially just Britain.  But outside it, our economy may crash, the social protections given to our workers could be stripped away and the common standards that help incentivise a cleaner environment wouldn’t be enforced.  So on June 23rd, for the sake of our communities, myself and council leaders representing over 12 million people will be voting to remain. 

Nick Forbes is the leader of Newcastle Council. 

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