The Brexit mantra of “taking back control” must include Westminster giving left-behind localities the power and resources they need to boost their own growth, they said.
The Government is setting up a Shared Prosperity Fund to bankroll projects in deprived areas after Brexit that currently get taxpayers’ money allocated by Brussels.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that European Union Structural Funds plus what the Government matches are worth £2.4billion a year across the UK.
In a report, the Foundation argued that the UK’s SPF should match that amount, be shared according to areas’ employment and earnings rates, and be controlled by local bodies.
The “metro mayors” appeal to ministers focused on English regions and was endorsed by business groups.
Ben Houchen, Conservative mayor of Tees Valley issued it along with Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Dan Jarvis, the Labour mayors of Greater Manchester and the city regions of Liverpool and Sheffield.
Some areas of the country “remain locked out of the success story” of UK record high employment and prosperity for some city centres, they said.
“This underlines the need for areas to be given more control of the tools to unlock inclusive economic growth in their communities.”
Mr Houchen stressed Brexit must not mean “another Whitehall power grab” and that EU funding must return directly to metro-mayors to direct at meeting the needs of local people and businesses.
“The needs of places like Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, with lower pay and stubborn unemployment rates, need to be front and centre of any new fund to support economic growth,” he said.
The UK government has guaranteed funding to projects receiving EU funds to December 2020, when the planned post-Brexit transition period ends. The SPF will seek to tackle regional inequality by raising productivity in disadvantaged areas.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said in response to the mayors: “Leaving the EU presents an opportunity to design a new, simplified, integrated fund operating across the UK.
“We are continuing to engage mayors and mayoral combined authorities to ensure certainty of funding, ahead of a public consultation later this year.
“Decisions on the operation and allocation of the SPF will be made following the consultation.”