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UK Shared Prosperity Fund

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2019

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the design of the UK shared prosperity fund. (908671)

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of the UK shared prosperity fund on Wales. (908675)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Welsh Government Ministers on a range of issues affecting Wales, including on the UK shared prosperity fund.

EU structural funds have been crucial for communities across Wales, and it is vital that Wales must not be left behind—we need that assurance. Why has it taken so long to get any detail from the Government on the shared prosperity fund, not least the consultation, which was promised by the Government before Christmas?

I agree that the UK shared prosperity fund will be extremely important to all parts of the UK. My specific interest is protecting Welsh interests in the development of that policy. On 14 January, I spoke to the Welsh Government’s Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles, to update him on the latest stages of the plans for consultation, and I also committed to sharing that with him before we formally consult. Of course we want to engage with a whole load of stakeholders. There is widespread recognition that the current structure does not work, and we have an opportunity to get it right.

Between 2014 and 2020, Wales will have received £2.4 billion in structural funding, or over 20% of the total UK allocation of EU funds. Will the UK Government ensure that Wales continues to receive at least an equivalent share of funding from the shared prosperity fund?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, in which he highlights some of the most recent data. The complete data on the period since European structural funding was introduced show that more than £4 billion has been spent over 17 years, but I am sure he agrees that we have not always got the best value out of that investment—there are several audit reports to that effect. Of course, any quantum of the UK shared prosperity fund is a matter reserved for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor during the comprehensive spending review.

Given the not unreasonable concern in north Wales about Hitachi’s decision to suspend development of Wylfa B, is my right hon. Friend willing to meet representatives of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to discuss ways in which the shared prosperity fund may be used to support the regional economy?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work in securing Hitachi’s interest in Wylfa when RWE and E.ON withdrew their interest from the project. Although last week’s decision is disappointing, our focus is on maintaining momentum towards the development consent. Of course I am happy to meet the board and my right hon. Friend to discuss how we can best use influences such as the shared prosperity fund and the north Wales growth deal. We will happily keep an open mind, but these matters are project-led, and the strength of resource depends on the quality of the project.

The UK shared prosperity fund should be just that—a UK-wide fund. What discussions have my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Scotland had with the Treasury to ensure that the UK Government have a positive impact on the lives of the people of Wales and Scotland?

My hon. Friend has highlighted inefficiencies in the current proposal, and there is a range of options for how we can best work on those. We are going out to consultation very soon. We have cross-Government discussions and consideration of this subject, but I do not want to pre-empt the consultation. I encourage my hon. Friend to engage with me, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Treasury.

In the late 1990s, the Secretary of State’s party was voting against the existence of the National Assembly. In 2005, it had a manifesto option of abolishing the Assembly. Can he understand why many Opposition Members do not believe that he truly wants to involve our National Assembly for Wales in the governance of the UK shared prosperity fund?

That question is a bit rich coming from the hon. Lady, given that her party’s Government left us with the famous legislative consent order motions, which meant that the Welsh Government could not even pass primary legislation in certain areas without Parliament’s explicit control. I point to the Wales Acts 2014 and 2017 and to the referendum, which extended the powers of the Welsh Assembly, as well as countless Joint Ministerial Committee meetings and this afternoon’s meeting between the Prime Minister and the First Minister to discuss how best to manage Brexit.