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Shared Prosperity Fund

Volume 678: debated on Monday 20 July 2020

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the shared prosperity fund. (904961)

This Government believe in respecting the results of democratic referendums. Leaving the European Union has provided us with an opportunity to align the objective of the EU structural funds with domestic priorities, while continuing to support vital jobs and growth opportunities across the United Kingdom. The new UK shared prosperity fund will be our vehicle for delivering that. UK Government officials regularly speak to their counterparts in the devolved Administrations about this and other issues.

This vague waffle on timelines and content just will not cut it. The UK has received over €10 billion in structural funding since 2014 as an EU member, and it is now staring at economic disaster, with no information on what will replace those funds. Will the Minister guarantee today that the shared prosperity fund will not result in areas such as Fife seeing any reduction in funding?

The 2019 Conservative party manifesto committed at a minimum to matching the size of EU structural funds in each nation. It is very important that we get these decisions right. This is, after all, an enormous sum of money—our money—sent formally to the EU and then top-sliced and sent back to us with conditions. I very much look forward to controlling it for ourselves.

It is not just the Scottish Government who are looking for clarity on this. Just last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report that said that, four years after the Brexit vote, it is “high time” we had some idea of where the Government are going. Does the Minister agree with me, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly Government that it is high time we had clarity on these schemes?

It is obviously importantly that we provide that clarity—I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman—and we are going to provide that clarity after the cross-government spending review in the autumn.

The report highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) did not end its criticism there. The IFS went on to say that it was “disconcerting” that the shared prosperity fund was still not finalised and suggested that

“With limited time left, one option the government could consider would be to continue with existing EU funding allocations for one more year.”

Will the Minister today commit to do just that, to protect all our communities and ensure that they are not left behind by this incompetent UK Government?

Obviously, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the Government. We are working very hard to ensure that we deliver on the decision to leave the European Union. We will be in a position to give full details on the UK shared prosperity fund after the cross-government spending review, which will be so important to determining many aspects of our future relationship with Europe, as well as our commitments to our own spending priorities. We will continue working closely as one United Kingdom to understand the changing needs of local and regional economies, and I am happy to meet Ministers from the Scottish Government to find an acceptable way forward.

Five months before the transition periods ends, there is still lots of talk from the Government about future funding arrangements but no details. Last month, the Minister told me that he would make inquiries on this, yet his response only promised more details in due course. Does he appreciate that communities cannot afford to wait in perpetuity and need clarity on this now?

My officials meet fortnightly with those of the Scottish Government, and it is obviously very important that we maintain that dialogue. As I indicated in my reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), we are clear that we are prepared to have talks at ministerial level with our Scottish counterparts. We want to provide that clarity, and we will be in a position to do so when we have had the spending review, which will detail our commitments in the round.

I am grateful, but endless meetings do not give answers to communities and local governments who need that information and clarity. Another issue is the stronger towns fund. There has been lots of self-congratulatory back-slapping from Tory Back Benchers but very little detail. In the departmental spending debate on the estimates earlier this month, there was still no detail forthcoming. Will the Minister advise us today when Scotland will receive details and a timeline for the stronger towns fund?

The stronger towns fund is a vital part of our levelling-up work. I make no apologies whatsoever for saying that it is a really important tool to rectify long-standing economic imbalances in the country. The Barnett formula will be applied to investment for England in the normal way at the spending review. The funding is committed to the devolved nations, which means that the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive a share of funding, with allocations to be confirmed in the next financial year.