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Shared Prosperity Fund

Volume 669: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2020

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the UK shared prosperity fund. (900133)

I have already had productive discussions with the First Minister and his colleagues. Only last week I met Jeremy Miles to discuss the UK shared prosperity fund, and I am excited about the opportunities that the fund will create to bind together the whole United Kingdom, tackling inequality and deprivation across each of our four nations.

Diolch yn fawr. The EU funding that comes to an end in 2020 has delivered more than £2 billion of investment in Wales since 2014. This money has been used according to priorities set in Wales, for Wales, by the Government of Wales. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that Wales will receive not a single penny less under the Government’s funding scheme, and that the priorities for Wales will continue to be set in Wales, by the people and the Parliament of Wales?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for strengthening the Union by coming here to support Welsh questions, which is very much appreciated. I hope that I can reassure him by describing the shared prosperity fund as a good news story, because for the first time in 45 years, a substantial sum of money is going to be distributed in Wales by Welsh politicians who are directly accountable to Welsh voters. That has not been the case for some time. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the collaborative approach I take with the Welsh Government over the distribution of the fund should ensure that it goes to the places where it is most needed, and is not—as some might argue has been the case in the past—blown on vanity projects. The relevant Minister in the Welsh Government is with me on this; we have a shared ambition to ensure that outcome, and to do so collaboratively and efficiently.

I am all for strengthening the Union, as most Welsh politicians are. I am completely against nationalism and all it stands for, but the reality is that I am also in favour of supporting the devolution settlement. This funding has always been controlled by the Assembly, so can the Secretary of State confirm that he will rule out subverting the Welsh Government by funding local government directly in Wales? Bypassing the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales will do nothing to strengthen the Union.

The reassurance I can give is that nothing contained in the proposals for the shared prosperity fund will in any way drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement.

The Secretary of State answered the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) by saying that there would be a “substantial” amount of money. Will he, though, confirm that there will not be a penny less nor a power lost, as the First Minister of Wales put it, to Wales, and that spending decisions will in fact be taken where they should be—by the Welsh Government?

On the first part of the hon. Lady’s question, our manifesto commitment was clear on that. As for the second part, my discussions with Jeremy Miles so far have been very clear about taking a collaborative approach so that the UK and Welsh Governments, working together, ensure that this money gets to the right place in a timely fashion.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new post? I also congratulate my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), on his long-anticipated and—may I say?—long-awaited promotion to the Front Bench.

As Wales leaves the European Union, the Secretary of State will be aware, because we have heard it in the questions so far, that there are deep concerns about the continuation of structural and investment funding. I have to say that his answers to my hon. Friends have not been that reassuring so far. Can he clear up the uncertainty now with two unequivocal guarantees—not a penny lost, and the Welsh Government having complete control of the funding?

On the hon. Gentleman’s first question—there are lots of double questions going on—the answer is yes. That was in the manifesto and we made it clear. As for the second question, the Welsh Government do not even have complete control over the situation now, so he is asking about something that is not even the status quo. I think he should refer to his ministerial and party colleague in Cardiff—Jeremy Miles, who I have spoken to—who is perfectly adamant, and perfectly content, that this should be a joint UK Government-Welsh Government initiative. What the hon. Gentleman is hinting at is actually contrary to the policy of his own party in Cardiff.

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. and good Friend on his appointment as Secretary of State?

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that since 2000 more than £4 billion of European aid has been spent in Wales but communities have not yet felt the benefit of that money, and the prioritisation of that spend by the Welsh Government has been brought into question by many local authorities and businesses alike? Does he agree that this is an opportunity to reset the formula and reset the way in which money is distributed, and to enable Members of this House to have some influence on how it is spent?

May I, with your patience, Mr Speaker, start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend and predecessor? There is a saying in politics: “There is no such thing as real friends, only sharks circling waiting for a sniff of blood”, but no such situation would describe our relationship. He has done a fantastic job for Wales. He has boundless energy and I know that Wales will benefit from that again.

On my right hon. Friend’s comments about the shared prosperity fund, I hope I can reassure him by saying that this is a reset of the meter of the relationship between the Welsh and the UK Governments. It is absolutely right that he highlights the priority that we should give to this, which is getting the money to the right place in a timely way and in a way that is accountable to Welsh voters as it never has been before.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. Under the Welsh Labour Government, Wrexham has missed out on opportunities for the past 20 years. Can the Secretary of State give assurances that Wrexham will now start to receive benefits from the shared prosperity fund?

May I congratulate my hon. Friend too? It is going to be a day of congratulating new Members, which is a happy place to be.

I hope—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will confirm this in due course—that, as far is Wrexham is concerned, the answer is yes. As for growth deals, that is an ongoing and positive development for Wales on which further information will be made available as we proceed. It is absolutely right that my hon. Friend highlights the specifics for her particular part of Wales, and yes, we will certainly comply and co-operate with that.

May I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister to their positions?

The shared prosperity fund represents a unique opportunity for all parts of Wales to benefit from Brexit. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that it is essential that in the design of the architecture of the fund, the priorities of local authorities and the interests of the people they serve should be properly reflected?

I thank my right hon. Friend for the advice that he has so generously given me over the years. It should be a source of encouragement that the early conversations I have had with the relevant Ministers, including the First Minister in Cardiff, suggest that they are as attuned as we are, or are certainly getting that way, to the need to ensure that the shared prosperity fund money that will be benefiting Wales is targeted at the areas where it is most needed and recognise the arguments being made across all parts of Wales. There is a public perception that this is always just about Cardiff, but this will be more about more than just Cardiff, and it is my job and the job of the Welsh Government to ensure that that is the case.

13. Those on the Opposition Benches see the shared prosperity fund as primarily a constitutional issue, but it is fundamentally an economic issue, and the previous rounds of European funding have failed in their objective of lifting Welsh GDP to EU average levels. Does my right hon Friend, whom I strongly welcome to his position, agree that however we design the new shared prosperity fund and however we share the responsibility with the Welsh Government, we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past? (900137)

I thank my right hon. Friend and west Walian neighbour for his question. The answer is yes. One of the reasons we are in this position—one of the reasons the Brexit vote went the way it did in June 2016 and the general election went the way it did in December 2019—is exactly the point he makes: people were beginning to lose faith. They knew that there were substantial sums of money, but somehow it never quite reached the places it should. The new arrangement—the reset to which I referred—will address exactly that point.