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Structural and Investment Funding: Transition Period

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2020

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of devolving spending in Northern Ireland of (a) structural and (b) investment funding after the end of the transition period to the Northern Ireland Executive. (909534)

The UK shared prosperity fund will help to level up and create opportunities for people and places across the United Kingdom. The Government will co-ordinate funding on a UK-wide basis, working with the devolved Administrations and local communities to ensure that it is used most effectively. The Northern Ireland Executive and the other devolved Administrations will be represented in the fund’s governance structures to help target this funding to the people and places that are most in need.

The spending of the shared prosperity fund, according to clauses in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, would override devolution, with no duty to consult on spend in devolved areas. We know that the internal market Bill intends to breach international law, and yesterday it was indicated that a further breach of international law was likely to come in the taxation Bill. Far from being limited and specific, it seems that disregard for the Good Friday agreement is unlimited while people desperately want certainty and a deal. Can the Secretary of State give us any assurances that next week’s Bill will not further undermine the Northern Ireland protocol and the chances of a deal and the certainty and the stability that people so desperately want?

If the hon. Lady looks at the clauses in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, she will see that they are about protecting and delivering on the Good Friday agreement to ensure that there are no borders. To deliver that, it is important that we have no border not just north to south, but east to west as well. On the UK shared prosperity fund, if she looks at my answer to the substantive question, she will see that I was very clear that the devolved authorities would be part of that, but of course this is money over and above; this is extra money that we will be looking to spend—in the same way that the EU has always been able to spend— once we have left the EU to ensure that those communities have the support that we have said they would have.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any spending requirements and demands made by and within Northern Ireland would be enhanced and likely to receive a more welcome ear in the Treasury and elsewhere were the Executive to crack ahead and create the independent fiscal council, which would act as a very convincing mouthpiece for those pleas?

My hon. Friend makes a hugely important and very accurate point. I think we sometimes forget this but the fiscal council was actually first agreed back in the “Fresh Start” agreement of 2015 and recommitted to in the “New Decade, New Approach” deal of January this year. I have been talking to the Executive about this. I had hoped to see it up and running by the autumn. I think it is important that the Executive and the Department of Finance get on with this and deliver on it. It will help them for budgeting purposes and ensure that, in the same way that we have the Office for Budget responsibility and the Irish Government have an independent fiscal council, people can be clear about the transparency and understanding of the money being spent in Northern Ireland. I think it would be the right thing to do, and I am looking forward to seeing the Executive deliver it as quickly as possible.