The UK’s exit from the European Union provides us with an opportunity to reconsider how funding for growth across the UK is designed and delivered. In our manifesto, we committed to engaging with the Welsh Government on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and that work is under way.
At the moment, the so-called opportunity of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund falls within the remit of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, a Department wholly devolved to England. It therefore does not understand the needs of the devolved nations and is bound to put the needs of England before those of the devolved nations. Does the Secretary of State agree that the devolved nations should have control?
The answer is in the title—it is the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and, therefore, joint work is taking place across Government. As the hon. Gentleman would expect, I have shown a strong interest in it, as have my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Clearly, we are keen to work together.
The retention of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund at Westminster undermines the devolution of economic development. Does the Secretary of State not see that his Government’s refusal to give the fund to devolved Governments is yet another power grab?
I certainly do not accept the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s question in relation to a power grab, because the Welsh Government supported the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which demonstrates that his assertion does not stack up. On EU aid and how it has been spent in Wales, more than £4 billion has been spent over 17 years and west Wales and the valleys remains the poorest part of the United Kingdom. The development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a great opportunity to reshape something that suits local communities and businesses far better and more efficiently.
This is a shambles. Over a year ago, the Secretary of State boasted of an efficient and responsive UK Shared Prosperity Fund, but today he admits that the Government have not even started the consultation on it. With months to go before the Brexit catastrophe, what guarantees do we have that there will be any fund fit for purpose for Wales or the other nations of the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman is highly selective in his references. He fails to recognise that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed to guarantee the funding for the existing programme until 2020. That gives us the opportunity to design a UK Shared Prosperity Fund with appropriate consultation with the devolved Administrations, as well as with businesses and local authorities, and we are ready for immediate discussions before the consultation.
In the past, too much EU funding was wasted in Wales on low-impact projects that did not help to close the economic gap. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the prosperity fund will not just repeat the mistakes of the past, but will be used in high impact projects to renew the Welsh economy?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point and obviously speaks with experience. He will remember the £38 million Technium project that built nine office spaces across Wales with the support of EU aid, six of which closed after nine years because they were unsustainable. That demonstrates the waste that was in the system: we can design a much better system for local businesses.
This is my first ever Welsh question, and I came because I want to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) to her position and wish her well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which should benefit the south-west and Wales, provides us with an opportunity to break away from the complex and restrictive processes that characterise the EU structural funding scheme?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will recognise that the current rules on EU funding exclude some areas that should qualify because they have wards that are among the most deprived in the UK. We can design a UK fund that is more appropriate for and responsive to those local communities.
What opportunities does the UK Shared Prosperity Fund provide for making sure that the money is spent on our priorities in all four constituent parts of our United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and he will recognise the benefits of co-operating on a cross-border basis. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund could give us an opportunity to consider how that can work imaginatively—although obviously I do not want to pre-empt any consultation.
It is always a pleasure to hear the dulcet tones of the hon. Gentleman, but I said “Owen” rather than “Nick”.
Long may it continue.
In the first spending period after Brexit, will Wales receive more money or less than it would have received under EU structural funds?
The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to pre-empt the Chancellor’s comprehensive spending review and Budgets that will come within that period. It is wholly inappropriate for me to respond on that basis, and much will depend on the detail of the nature of the deal we get with the European Union.
Businesses and community organisations across Wales are alarmed at how little detail has been provided about the Shared Prosperity Fund. They are doubly concerned that the consultation that has been promised by the end of this year has not even started. Will the Secretary of State at long last provide a date for this consultation and, if he cannot, may we at the very least have a date on which we can have that date?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we will consult on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund very soon. I am sure that even he will agree that the existing programme has not gained the greatest value for money, as he will also be aware that the then first Minister, Rhodri Morgan, said that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are now on our third round of EU funding. There must be a better way.