I’m proud to chair APPG on Post-Brexit Funding and delighted to have taken part in Dan Jarvis MP’s Westminster Hall debate on the Shared Prosperity Fund. I pressed the Government to main the same funding in full, to respect the devolution settlement and to empower communities.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on an outstanding speech and on securing this debate. As things stand, we still do not know how much funding will be available, how it will be divided across the country, what activities will be eligible for support and who will decide how the money is spent. But this is not just about money—there is a real fear that it will be not only a financial grab, but a power grab, and that the Westminster Government will use this opportunity to reduce funding for the areas that need it most, and to claw back powers that sit naturally with devolved Administrations and other local areas.
Those deep-seated concerns led to the creation of the all-party group for post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas, which I am truly proud to chair. Our wide-ranging review of 80 organisations across the UK heard clear and unanimous representations that the UK’s shared prosperity fund must comprise not a single penny less in real terms than the EU and UK funding streams it replaces. Westminster must not use Brexit as an opportunity to short-change the poorest parts of the UK. Equally, the UK Government must not prevent local areas from having appropriate control over the funds.
Although it is disappointing that the Minister has so far refused to meet our group, last month officers from our APPG met the Secretary of State for Wales to make those points, and last week they met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Both meetings were conducted in a positive and constructive spirit, but it is shocking that there is still no sign of the public consultation on the SPF being launched any time soon. In fact, there was a suggestion that the consultation may be delayed until the comprehensive spending review in the autumn. Given that the CSR will include information on the funding of the SPF, I am not sure how the relevant bodies are supposed to contribute meaningfully, when the horse will have already bolted. I assure the Minister, however, that our APPG will be watching carefully to ensure there is no sleight of hand from the Government on that point.
We need a guarantee that the SPF budget will not be a penny less than current and projected EU funding, and that the devolution settlement will be fully respected. We need clarity about when the SPF consultation will be published. The great advantage of the current system is that it is data driven and evidence based, thus guarding against pork barrel politics. There is a fundamental worry that the SPF will become a politicised slush fund, with a Conservative Government using it to buy votes in marginal seats. I hope that the Minister’s response today reassures us that our constituencies will not be left short-changed by a sleight of hand in Westminster.