Westminster Must Not Use Brexit And The End Of The EU’s Regional Funding As An Opportunity To Short-Change The Poorest Parts Of The UK

In a Westminster Hall debate on the Shared Prosperity Fund and Wales I spoke about how this cannot be a financial or a power grab and the work of the APPG on post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas.

You can read the APPG report of an initial inquiry into the UK Shared Prosperity Fund here 

Stephen Kinnock: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on securing this important debate.

The 2017 Conservative manifesto promised to set up a new UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU funds, with the intention that the new fund will

“reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations”

and will be

“cheap to administer, low in bureaucracy and targeted where it is needed most”,

so we know how to measure the promises that the Conservative Government are now making. Two and a half years later—not from the manifesto but from the referendum—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 or who will take the decisions on how the money is spent. There is a huge fear that that will be not just a financial grab, but also a power grab, and that the Conservative Government will use this opportunity to reduce funding for areas that need it most and to claw back powers that sit naturally with the devolved Administrations.

That concern drove us to create the all-party parliamentary group on post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas. In that spirit, we worked with the Industrial Communities Alliance and launched a national inquiry to help us understand the wide-ranging views on the key questions that I have highlighted. That involved inviting a large number of organisations to submit evidence to the inquiry about what they wanted from the shared prosperity fund. Respondents included local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, the TUC—including the Welsh TUC—mayoral combined authorities and devolved Administrations. Such was the huge interest and concern that we received submissions from over 80 different bodies across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Many hon. Members present here ​are members of the APPG. The report will be published on Friday, but I will give a brief summary of the key recommendations.

There is an overwhelming consensus that the shared prosperity fund must not comprise a penny less than what the EU would have invested in Britain from 2020 to 2024. The Government must, above all, prioritise narrowing the differences in prosperity across the UK. In England, the funding should be allocated to local areas on the basis of a robust formula and up-to-date statistics. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the UK Government should respect the devolution settlement and any guidelines should therefore be kept at a strategic and broad level, and agreed with the devolved Administrations, who should keep responsibility for detailed design and delivery. Those findings all reflect my own concerns. The report has been signed off by all vice-chairs of the APPG, so it is a cross-party report; we shall send it to the relevant Secretaries of State and seek follow-up meetings.

Westminster must not use Brexit and the end of the EU’s regional funding as an opportunity to short-change the poorest parts of the UK. The UK Government must not preside over a Westminster power grab, whereby devolved Administrations are denied the appropriate control over funds. The Government have promised their own consultation—I am sure the Minister will tell us more about that—which I understand will be launched before Christmas. It is very important that they take the recommendations in our report into account, particularly as they reflect the views of more than 80 organisations at the coalface of those issues. The design must not be dreamed up in Westminster or Whitehall bubbles, but driven by the practitioners—the people who really know what works, and what does not, in their communities.