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UK Shared Prosperity Fund

Volume 657: debated on Wednesday 3 April 2019

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about a range of issues affecting Wales, including the UK shared prosperity fund. Leaving the European Union removes the geographical and fund-specific constraints that currently exist, and provides an opportunity to address the concerns of businesses, the voluntary sector and communities about excessive bureaucracy.

The Government committed themselves to creating a UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU funding that seeks to reduce inequalities across our communities between the four nations of the United Kingdom. Two years later, the fund still does not exist. Are the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Scotland advocating its introduction in the Cabinet, to ensure that Scotland and Wales secure the fairest deal and will not receive less funding than they currently receive, or than was promised by the leave campaign?

The simple fact is that the shared prosperity fund does not exist because we are still part of the European Union and receiving that EU funding. There is clearly plenty of space for development, and we will be consulting shortly. In respect of the share of funds received by Wales, I would compare my record positively with that of the Labour Administration. Having underfunded Wales for 13 years, we now have a new, enhanced settlement that is focused on need.

The worst inequality in any EU member state exists between London and Wales, and leaving the EU would make that worse. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he is working to ensure that the shared prosperity fund delivers for Wales—which can be done only if decisions are made in Wales—and that devolved Governments are not sidelined?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about the worst inequality, as she described it—that between London and Wales. The facts speak for themselves, but those inequalities have built up over some time. I would also point to the relative positive growth in Wales compared with other parts of the UK and the enhanced funding settlement that has been negotiated under the fiscal framework. So I am optimistic and excited about our future outside the EU.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK shared prosperity fund offers a cast-iron guarantee that Wales is not going to lose out financially as a result of Brexit, and will he consider ensuring that that money goes directly to local authorities so it is spent in the best possible way?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Like me, he was an Assembly Member in 1999 when the first form of European aid on this scale was discussed. It was described as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sadly, we have qualified twice since and that is because of the relative failure of the existing programmes.

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), will my right hon. Friend ensure that it is local authorities that can bid for this scheme, rather than it just being devolved to the Welsh Assembly to divide up the funds accordingly?

My hon. Friend makes an important point and that is the sort of innovation that the consultation will consider. He is tempting me to draw conclusions before we actually consult, but we have not been doing nothing on this policy area. Pre-consultation discussions have already been taking place in Wales and the Welsh Government jointly presented at the last St Asaph meeting in north Wales.

10. Wales has been a net beneficiary of EU structural funds and we were told we would not lose a penny when we leave the EU, so can we have certainty on the UK prosperity fund? When will the Secretary of State start to do his job, stand up for the people of Wales and make sure we do not lose out after we have left the EU? (910120)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but of course he is tempting me to announce elements of the comprehensive spending review well before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will do so later this year. However, communities have said that the £4 billion has not changed communities in the way they wanted it to, so this is an opportunity to introduce a much more innovative, proactive approach that responds to the private and voluntary sectors and local authorities in a much more local way.

I welcome the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) to his new ministerial position. May I too wish our Labour candidate Ruth Jones well in the Newport West by-election tomorrow?

There has been more than just the one meeting on the shared prosperity fund in Wales—there have been five meetings—but the consultation has not started. MPs were neither informed nor invited to those meetings, even if, as was the case with me, they were held in their own constituency. Does the right hon. Gentleman view MPs from all sides as stakeholders in the shared prosperity fund? Why were MPs not invited to these meetings and will he meet with stakeholder MPs to discuss the design of the fund?

First, I point out that these meetings were aimed at communities and the Welsh Government jointly presented at the last one. The hon. Gentleman has frequent opportunities to make direct representation here and it was only a little over a week ago that I met the all-party group for the UK shared prosperity fund to discuss the matter. I am sorry that he could not be present with some of his colleagues, but of course I will be happy to meet him or any other colleague who wishes to discuss the UK shared prosperity fund.