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Shared Prosperity Fund

Volume 661: debated on Tuesday 11 June 2019

The Prime Minister recently appointed me as a joint Minister in this Department and in my existing role in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. That shows the Government’s commitment to drive forward the northern powerhouse, which has always been a partnership between local government, national Government, the industrial strategy and business. In this role I will continue to hold regular meetings to discuss EU exit, and the UK shared prosperity fund will remain a priority in that.

This shows that the Minister is a very busy man with many commitments and a very full diary.

The Prime Minister told me in December 2018 that a consultation on the UK shared prosperity fund would take place by the end of that year. The silence on progress with this fund to replace the EU structural fund, worth €2.4 billion a year, is deafening and the lack of detail and communication is shameful given that these funds are designed to help all communities prosper. Will the Secretary of State tell us once and for all, when this fund will be designed and implemented? Will it match current levels or is this important fund going to be yet another casualty of Brexit?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that this Government have set forward our ambition to deliver a UK shared prosperity fund that creates wealth, growth and jobs in all parts of our United Kingdom. We have been clear that we will respect the devolution settlement, and we have been absolutely clear that we will consult the Scottish Government and other devolved Governments before we start the consultation on that. But the hon. Lady does not have to wait until then, because there have been meetings between officials and over 500 stakeholders at 25 official events across the country, and I am sure the hon. Lady will look forward to taking part in future events.

The shared prosperity fund represents a really good opportunity to improve the way in which we support poorer communities with funding—far too much of the EU structural funding has been wasted in the past—but will the Minister take this opportunity to scotch some of the scaremongering that we have heard in recent days about how the new shared prosperity fund will lead to a net loss for places such as Wales and a net gain for the south-east? The House of Commons Library has confirmed to me that this recent study is based on unfair comparisons.

I would not question the authority, even-handedness and open-mindedness of House of Commons Library. I would direct my right hon. Friend to the debate that took place in Westminster Hall on 14 May, led by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), in which colleagues and the Government set out in considerable detail our ambition to drive jobs, growth and prosperity in all parts of our United Kingdom through this fund.

Research from the independent Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions has shown that Scotland stands to lose nearly €1 billion of funding if the UK Government do not match EU funding after 2020. Given what the Minister has said about his responsibilities, will he tell us which of the 10 candidates for Prime Minister have given guarantees to replace every penny of this funding and retain Holyrood’s role in disbursing it?

It is welcome that the hon. Gentleman wants to play such an active and full part in the Conservative leadership election, but he knows, as I do, that decisions about the UK shared prosperity fund, on quantum and all other matters, will be taken during the comprehensive spending review and the consultation. I would say to him that the Scottish Government must absolutely play their part in being an advocate for the areas of Scotland that share this Government’s ambition to create jobs, wealth and growth through the UK shared prosperity fund, mirroring in many ways what is being achieved through European funds.

The public will have heard that answer, which is clearly insufficient and not good enough. The highlands and islands alone stand to lose €180 million, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that he is willing to grab control of devolved spending. Is it any wonder that the Scottish public are now looking to Scotland being an independent nation state in Europe with an equal seat at the table, rather than this shambles?

Well, Mr Speaker, if you want a strong demonstration that this country is better together, you need look no further than the highlands and islands growth deal, a partnership between the UK Government and the Scottish Government that is changing lives for people across the highlands and islands. That is a demonstration in one Government policy of why this Union should stay together.