My Lords, we recognise that local enterprise partnerships have been allocated a share of EU structural funds, and that is already funding projects. The people of the UK have voted to leave the EU. It would not be appropriate to commit, without due consideration, to continuing to spend money over a long period as though we had not voted to leave the EU. However, the Government remain committed to encouraging economic growth across the regions and nations of the UK, and are therefore carefully considering the use of these funds. They will make an announcement on EU funding in due course.
I thank the Minister for his response. What advice would he give to councils which are about to commit to contracts, and what is the Government’s position on the 2014-20 programme, given that this affects the poorest and most needy areas in the country? Will he give some assurances about the Government’s will to make these projects succeed?
Absolutely, and I recognise the noble Baroness’s interest in this matter with her long service on Bristol City Council. Of course the Government understand that local enterprise partnerships urgently need clarity in order to continue signing contracts for projects, but we have voted to leave the UK—
I am getting plenty of suggested answers. In fact, we did not vote to leave the UK, we voted to leave the EU. We will have to transition to new long-term arrangements where the UK does not participate in EU programmes, but these are not simple decisions without long-term consequences. Given those complexities, the Government will make an announcement soon, which will provide clarity.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on taking on additional responsibilities for the Government—it will be a fast learning curve. Can we be clear that many of the most economically deprived areas of this country are faced with the potential withdrawal of very significant grants from the European Union and that such a withdrawal will be catastrophic for them, unless this Government set out to drop the previous preoccupation with the deficit and get on with investing to ensure that there is growth in these areas? Will the Minister indicate that he sees that as a major priority in his role?
I thank the noble Lord and look forward to being asked lots of questions by him in future. I am pleased to say that I completely agree with him. This vote does not change the fact that infrastructure is a key government priority. That was demonstrated in the 2016 Budget, when we accelerated the commitment to invest more than £100 billion in infrastructure. In the last Parliament, the average annual investment was 17% higher than in the preceding one.
My Lords, will my noble friend try to educate some Members of this House on the difference between spending and investing? One is very easy and one is a little more difficult. Secondly, will he confirm that no money has been coming into this country from the EU? It is British taxpayers’ money that has been routed through Brussels with a percentage creamed off to pay for the inefficiencies and corruptions in that place.
My Lords, in 2015, the European Investment Bank provided financing of €7.8 billion for infrastructure in the UK. As the Minister will know, that was long-term, patient money for which there is no alternative source. Can he give a guarantee to our local authorities that the UK will continue to participate in the European Investment Bank, or will they need to begin cancelling the various projects in development that require future EIB funding?
In the interests of education, will the Minister confirm that the money that comes into Britain from the European Investment Bank does not involve one penny or one cent of taxpayers’ money and that it is crucial for the maintenance of the development of universities, housing associations, schools and other essential public projects? Will he confirm that the future of our relationship with the EIB is gravely damaged by the decision to leave the European Union? Will the Minister give me an undertaking that the Government will strive to ensure that, whatever happens with our membership of the EU, we will continue to benefit from EIB funding?
My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that I cannot give that commitment today, but I do take note of what he says and will pass it on. We want to have a productive and long-term relationship with the EU even though we are not going to be a member.