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What About That £350Million? Some Suggestions For Life Beyond Brexit

24/01/2017 12:32
Don Bayley via Getty Images

After months of the constant cry for Theresa May to lay out her Brexit strategy, in the past two weeks we have heard more. Unsurprisingly I don't feel any more in the know! I didn't expect to be - revealing your negotiating position is a bit like playing poker with your cards laid out in front of you.

So if we accept we are not going to get much clearer about the ins and outs until a deal is before parliament, why not look past this and start deciding what we will do with our new freedom - all that revenue that was flowing to the EU and which we can now get our hands on?

There was some discussion about the accuracy of the '£350m a week' figure which was on the side of the Leave battle bus:

"We send the EU £350million a week
Let's fund our NHS instead"

We could discuss at length the exact amount, but what is more important is what we will spend that money on instead: it doesn't seem that anyone is asking that question. It is obvious that the coalition which was the 'vote Leave' campaign would certainly have broken up if they had been asked what we should spend the money on - no matter how much it was.

What comes next?
Surely this is the really important question? The Treasury should be tapping away at its calculator working out the hard Brexit and soft Brexit figures, which would give some real money to play with. Although I appreciate high-minded statements about a 'Global Britain', there are some hard and fast plans that could be made with this not insignificant amount of cash. This is where the real debate could be at the moment - it could even provide the Labour party with something to unite on!

So here is a little list to get the debate going - it's a bit of a wishlist:

Theresa May's post-Brexit spending list

1. Support the growth of civil society and the voluntary sector - the 'first in and last out' mentality, which we at FaithAction like to attribute to faith-based organisations, is somewhat true of the wider voluntary sector. Innovative and responsive to the needs of the local community, faith and the voluntary sector is the secret weapon of society. It provides solutions, and reaches those who are considered 'hard to reach' by the public sector but are often the most in need of aid.

The 72% turnout for the referendum was an increase on the 2015 general election, but part of an upward trend after a significant dip following 1997. The Brexit campaign drove an interest and engagement that is good for democracy. An active citizenry and an increase in the growth of social action and community projects could usher in a social boom, whether or not we get a financial one.

2. Infrastructure growth - Victorian sewers, medieval roads and a rail network with the practices of the 1970s... we can do more, we can do it in greener ways and we don't have to sacrifice the rest of our countryside. While we have been bickering about Heathrow, the Chinese have been building airports at a colossal rate, with over 60 inland airports under expansion, and another 30 new regional airports being built. Boris Island, with its regeneration opportunities for east London and the east of England, seems modest in comparison - why not have both? The point is that infrastructure breeds confidence as well as creating capacity and primary and secondary employment.

3. Yes to the NHS, but also to social care - let's not put it all onto the NHS: social care needs to be aided. This need, along with the underfunding of mental health services, means that the capacity we already have is not best used. We don't just need more beds so we can keep more of the wrong people in them: we need to move the problem down the line. Our care of older people needs to start and end with doctors and nurses, but we need to keep people out of hospital in the same way as we are endeavouring to in maternal health. Care is just that: care, attention, dealing with loneliness. Providing socialisation will help keep people away from acute services. So when looking to improve health and care, it's not all about the NHS: it's about those organisations and groups that work around medical services - the day centres, the 'silver surfer' schemes, church lunch clubs, intergenerational programmes... it's as much to do with society as it is to do with tax and spend.

4. Education too - our young people need to be as well equipped for the 21st century as they can be. Literacy and numeracy are still important as the bedrock of learning, but new skills are needed. Enterprise and innovation, as well as problem solving, debt management and self-management are essential in a world profoundly changed in the last 17 years.

5. Regulation balance - some of the best minds we have need to tangle with this one. How do we remain open for business, remain a good neighbour but make a safe environment for all of us who are workers? If it needs thinking about, it will cost as well!

6. Maintain our moral compass - this could be interpreted in many ways, but here I mean with regard to international development and our international commitments. There should be no place for little Englanders - the 'I'm alright Jack!' attitude. We have a mission to share what we have learned about being a nation which has a positive contribution to make to the world.

7. Brexit shock fund - there will be some fallout somewhere. We need to keep some resources back to deploy in affected areas, to stimulate growth, grow up new industry, etc.

Seven areas for investment - I think it won't be hard to spend the Brexit bonanza. Let's hope there is something left after the deals are done.

Daniel Singleton is the National Executive Director of FaithAction, a network of faith based and community organisations. This blog will be published also at www.faithaction.net

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