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UK Shared Prosperity Fund

Volume 803: debated on Thursday 21 May 2020

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to publish their proposals for the roll out of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

The Government recognise the importance of bringing clarity on the UK shared prosperity fund. Decisions on its design will need to be taken after a cross-government spending review. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with regional partners while developing policy.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, although it is rather disappointing. This is urgent. In their manifesto, the Government made a commitment to launch this fund. Time is running out on EU funding, and we need this funding to bring up regions in the post-Covid-19 recovery. Can the Minister give some feeling about when this scheme will be announced in detail so that people can prepare for it locally and regionally? Can he confirm that the amounts available to regions will be the same as they would have been under European funding?

Yes, I can give the noble Lord an assurance that the amount of funding will be at least at the same level as all the European structural funds it replaces. I cannot say any more about the timing, and I refer to my previous point about the importance of the comprehensive spending review.

My Lords, the assurance that the Minister has just given on funding is very welcome. Do the Government propose to invite competitive bids for the prosperity fund in England and make decisions centrally, or to allocate funds to the areas and regions concerned and promote local decision-making?

I thank my noble friend for his question. This is a unique opportunity to provide the right priorities for the United Kingdom and to design something that levels up the four nations and our less developed regions. It is a great opportunity to do that and the details will be forthcoming. I note my noble friend’s point.

My Lords, from Stornoway’s Creative Industries Media Centre to the television series “Peaky Blinders”, the European Regional Development Fund has provided significant support to creative industry projects in infrastructure and content across the country. Will there be the same level of funding through the prosperity fund? Will there be continuity of funding? Will there be separate replacement funding for Creative Europe?

I thank the noble Earl for his point about support for the creative industries from the European Regional Development Fund. The purpose of this new UK shared prosperity fund is to level up and provide the support needed to do that. I cannot say any more around specifics for support for the creative industries at this stage.

My Lords, the Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns recommended that the UK shared prosperity fund should target the development of coastal business. What is the Government’s attitude to this, and when will we see detailed proposals from the Government? Does the Minister agree that the revival of our coastal towns, improving the offer to visitors, has taken on a whole new importance as more and more of us will be holidaying at home in the years ahead?

I thank the noble Lord for raising the issue of support for coastal towns. It is important that those economies are raised up and do not fall behind the UK average. The whole purpose of this fund is to level up the United Kingdom, and I assure the noble Lord that we are specifically looking into the best way of doing that.

My Lords, the voluntary community and social enterprise sector has made very effective use of EU structural funds. However, generally it can be very difficult for the sector to access public sector procurement and bidding processes. Therefore, will the Minister undertake to consult the sector before the details of this new scheme are put in place?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. It is very important that we consult the local community and voluntary sector. This is an opportunity, through one fund, to reduce bureaucracy and avoid form-filling, and for precisely that reason we will engage with the wider voluntary and community sector.

My Lords, inequality anywhere is a threat to equality everywhere. Will the Minister confirm that the priorities and objectives of the UK shared prosperity fund will remain—in particular, to boost economic development, especially in the inner cities and other impoverished areas—irrespective of the Covid-19 situation?

I thank the noble Lord. We have to ensure that we level up and that that cuts across all communities that are lower than the national average. That will be a focus for the fund in question.

My Lords, programmes such as the LEADER programme are very important for rural areas. Notwithstanding what my noble friend has said about inner cities and seaside towns, will he confirm that the funding in rural areas will not be diminished?

We have a real opportunity, through the UK shared prosperity fund, to design a fund that is driven by our national priorities and needs. The decision on how the fund will be allocated will be taken as part of the funding review. However, I underline that support for rural areas is critical if we wish to achieve that ambition.

My Lords, there is increasing evidence of green projects creating more jobs and delivering higher returns per pound invested. They are also spread across the whole of the UK. Therefore, will the Government prioritise green investments in their design of the fund?

The design of the fund will be made public at a later date. I know of the interest that there is in green issues, and of course they are a critical part of what the Government are seeking to do.

Given that the left-behind places, which the Government promised to help in the December general election, are likely to be the hardest hit in the current economic crisis, will the Minister assure us that the Government will have this fund ready for operation by 1 January 2021, when EU structural funds end?

I refer the noble Baroness to my previous answer. I cannot make a specific commitment on the timing but we obviously realise that, with the pandemic, it is important to proceed as fast as possible.

Will the Government not only replace the money for Wales from the European funds pound for pound but match the powers that the Welsh Government currently have over those funds?

The noble Lord will recognise that Wales receives more per capita than any of the four nations. I have made a commitment that the overall level of the funds will, at the minimum, remain the same, but I cannot go any further on the specific funding for the various nations.

My Lords, we are all well aware of the scenario in which the UK Government provide the money and the devolved Administrations then take the credit for spending it. Can my noble friend assure us that all projects supported by the shared prosperity fund will be appropriately branded to acknowledge the role of the UK Government in order to underline the importance of our union?

My Lords, I congratulate colleagues and the Minister because we got through all 10 questions—something that we have not done very frequently during Question Time—so I thank noble Lords for that. The third Oral Question comes from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford.