I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues, including the UK shared prosperity fund. The Government are committed to consulting widely on the design of the fund, which will provide a real opportunity to strengthen the bonds of the Union through a programme of investment to tackle inequalities between communities.
That does not really tell us very much. The Government snuck out a statement pre-recess, with no guarantees and a very vague promise of consultation. Can the Secretary of State tell me today whether Wales and Scotland will be able to set their own priorities under the shared prosperity fund, or is this just another blatant Westminster power grab?
Wales has received more than £4 billion—or almost £5 billion—over the last 17 years or more, but remains the poorest part of the UK. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change that funding, so it can be more responsive to the needs of communities, rather than perhaps centralised bureaucrats.
Like Wales, Cornwall has benefited from the European regional development fund and objective 1 funding. Can I ask what representations the Welsh Secretary is making to the Treasury to ensure that small businesses are able to bid in, because that was the big problem with the funding in the previous round?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He talks about the engagement of the private sector and small businesses, particularly with what are currently European programmes, and the difficulty they have had. The UK shared prosperity fund will allow us to respond to the demands of businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and right across Wales.
I will happily work constructively with the hon. Gentleman, as I regularly do—I pay tribute to the work he has been doing to highlight the challenges and opportunities that the Ebbw Vale railway line brings—and I will meet him and our colleagues. I would highlight, however, that Cardiff Central is also important to the network in and around south Wales. The renewal of the station, which we have announced, has been well received within the region, as has the new West Wales Parkway, which will take tens of minutes off journey times between Cardiff and west Wales.
Can the Secretary of State give this House an assurance that every part of Wales—not just west Wales and the valleys, but every part of Wales, including mid-Wales—will be in a position to benefit from the funding opportunities that will arise from the UK shared prosperity fund?
May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for highlighting and championing this cause for some time? He recognises that some of the poorest wards in Wales are outside the current European rules about where money can be spent. His constituency is one and my constituency is another, so reshaping the UK shared prosperity fund will give us an opportunity to support his most vulnerable constituents and others, wherever else they are in Wales.
Agencies, small businesses and local authorities are making post-2020 plans now. What assurances can the Secretary of State give those businesses and agencies that the money will become available, and how will they manage to access this money?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Even if we were remaining in the European Union and we had not had the referendum, there would be no clarity on his question from a European perspective. The way in which the Labour party is prolonging the Brexit debate means more uncertainty for community groups that want to benefit from the post-Brexit policies, such as the UK shared prosperity fund.