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European Structural and Investment Funds

Volume 787: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that the £8.4 billion of European Structural Investment Funds allocated to local government for the 2014-20 period is made available for the support of businesses and infrastructure improvements and that an equivalent value of funding is available for the period after 2020.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw Members’ attention to my relevant interests in the register.

My Lords, over 50% of the United Kingdom’s structural fund allocation supports businesses, infrastructure and infrastructure development. Under the proposed financial settlement with the EU, the UK will retain its full funding allocation for 2014-2020 structural funds, and will continue to benefit from structural fund programmes until their closure. In the longer term, the United Kingdom shared prosperity fund will be introduced domestically to reduce inequalities and raise productivity in line with the industrial strategy.

I thank the Minister for his response. As he will be aware, the structural fund supports the poorer regions of our country. I draw his attention to Cornwall, where one of the programmes is a £10 million fund to support small business growth, which is vital for Cornwall. That will end in 2020, if we leave the EU. Will the Minister make a commitment that the funding promised in the Conservative Party manifesto, to which he has just referred, will provide the same level of funding for such programmes after 2020?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will not expect me to give commitments of that sort, but she will know that the shared prosperity fund will aim to improve the United Kingdom’s productivity and reduce economic inequalities across the entire United Kingdom. Therefore, some of it will presumably be directed at Cornwall. The important matter that the noble Baroness should be aware of is the fresh opportunity to spend money according to our own priorities rather than those set by the EU. I think that even the noble Baroness would agree with that.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in the past Conservative Governments have reduced funding to areas that have been in receipt of structural funds. Can he guarantee that in any new scheme there will be no reduction this time and it will be additional? Those reductions are one of the reasons our regions are not as prosperous as they should be.

My Lords, again the noble Lord will not expect me to give any specific guarantees at this stage. He knows why we have introduced the shared prosperity fund and that we also have the Industrial Strategy White Paper. In that White Paper, we refer to the inequalities between the regions, particularly in relation to productivity but also in other respects. It seems to me obvious, therefore, that we would want to devote the shared prosperity fund—the name of which gives some indication of what it is supposed to do—to doing just that.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Wales has been a significant beneficiary of these funds over the past 17 years. The Government have given an undertaking that they will replace money lost from European sources if we suffer Brexit. Will the Minister enlighten the House as to the criteria that will be used to ensure that the money goes to those areas that need it most?

My Lords, the way that the Welsh voted in the referendum probably gives some indication of what they think we are likely to do with things such as the shared prosperity fund. The Welsh have considerable faith in how this Conservative Government will direct resources from the fund. Again, the noble Lord will not expect me to give any guarantees at this stage.

My Lords, if the Minister thinks the people in Wales have confidence in this Government, I suggest he thinks again. Several times today, he has said that he can give no guarantees. The European structural and investment funds have brought enormous benefit to the areas in receipt of them. So many times in this Chamber, we have heard about the cost of the EU as if all the funding has gone in one direction from this country to the EU, and that we have had no benefit. This is an indication of benefit that has been received by the UK. Will the Minister reconsider his answer? What guarantees can he give that these areas will not lose out by this country leaving the EU?

My Lords, the noble Baroness should listen very carefully to my answers. The guarantees I was giving were about the future of the shared prosperity fund. I can give categorical guarantees about European structural funds for 2014-20. Those guarantees will continue to stand, as has been made clear by my right honourable friends in another place. They will stand in a no-deal scenario, and all projects that were signed up to before the Autumn Statement of 2016 will be guaranteed by the Government after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

My Lords, my noble friend has said that in the future these decisions will be made by Britain, not the European Union. Can he explain precisely the difference in criteria between those used by the European Union at the moment, and those that he will use, and how, if he uses different criteria, he will also meet the promise that all those places that now receive money will continue to do so?

My Lords, I did not say there would necessarily be different criteria. I said—and I am sure my noble friend would agree with this—that the decisions would be made by us and not by the EU.

My Lords, perhaps a fifth time might get the right answer. Will the Minister confirm whether the £21 million investment in the Greater Manchester low carbon and innovation fund will be funded if we leave Europe, following a hard Conservative Brexit? There are 2.8 million people relying on the answer, so for brevity, perhaps “yes” would suffice.

My Lords, again I ask the noble Lord to listen to what I have to say. I gave a categorical guarantee about the financial settlement and structural funds that have been agreed as part of the 2014-20 funding. I do not know about the specific project to which the noble Lord referred, but if it is included, it will be guaranteed. We have also made a guarantee about a no-deal scenario that all projects that were signed up to before the Autumn Statement 2016 will be guaranteed by the Government after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

My Lords, are we not talking about only £1.2 billion per annum in this Question? Surely we can go on paying that if we want to from the £20 billion per annum we will be saving by leaving the EU.

My Lords, the noble Lord thinks that a billion pounds is a small amount of money. I think someone did once say, “A billion here, a billion there, and we are soon talking real money”. We are talking about considerable funds—some £8.6 billion over that period, which is a considerable amount.