I spoke earlier in the debate on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, asking the Minister to ensure that the Fund "will be flexible enough to take account of the diverse needs of my constituency, with its many struggling rural ex-mining communities that bear the legacy of a harsh industrial past, as well as those towns whose high streets have been ravaged by the change in shopping trends and, sadly, the demise of local banks?"
You can view my contribution here.
I thank the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) for securing this debate, which is important for Scotland and the whole UK. In recent weeks Opposition Members have made many, fairly wild, allegations that the Government have not adequately planned for Brexit. Aside from the fact that we have seen daily evidence of considerable planning, and that we cannot possibly know today how effective such planning will be in the fullness of time, many are still determined to paint a bleak picture. I hope the provision of the UK shared prosperity fund will provide some reassurance to those who have instead kept an open mind, and offer an indication that the Government have planned for some time to replace the structural funding that the UK receives via the EU. British taxpayers’ money is currently managed in the European Union, far away in Brussels, and I believe this fund will considerably benefit my constituents.
This funding is in the region of £2.4 billion per annum to boost economic development. It will provide support for businesses, employment and agriculture and, as stated in the industrial strategy, it will strengthen the “foundation of productivity”. Fisheries will be covered by separate funds. The funding will be administered by the different nations of the UK, and I understand that, as always, the UK Government will respect the devolution settlements regarding the allocation of funds.
The laudable aim of the fund, which could be said to be at the skeletal heads of terms stage following stakeholder engagement, is to reduce inequalities between communities. A consultation will follow, to enable flesh to be added to the bones. I welcome the statement that the new fund will be low in bureaucracy and duplication. The single most important fact is that the UK Government have guaranteed to maintain all EU funding that was agreed before the UK leaves the EU.
Let me reflect on infrastructure in Scotland, the bulk and best of which was built long before we joined the European Union. I will name just two iconic bridges—the Forth rail bridge and the Forth road bridge—neither of which encompasses Chinese steel. I believe that recent data show southern Scotland as a less developed area. When considering my constituency, I welcome the fact that this funding will provide support to local small businesses, several of which have highlighted to me that they routinely struggle to make a living, never mind a profit, under the burden of increasing rates and taxes, while also accommodating increased salary costs.
The unemployment rate in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock is 6.9%, which is far above the Scottish and UK average of around 3.8%. My constituency has immense potential, and really needs this funding. That high unemployment rate would further concern me if, as part of its method of allocating spending between regions, the new UK shared prosperity fund replicated the measures used by the EU for its structural funds—namely GDP per person—because in some former mining areas that would result in a distorted picture.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggested that the funding should be focused on “inclusive growth” and be
“allocated according to the employment rate and earnings of the least well off”.
That would be most beneficial for constituencies such as mine, and others across the United Kingdom.
I have met several constituents with good, innovative ideas and sound STEM and business backgrounds who could perhaps benefit not just local communities but the wider UK. They are people whose ideas, with the support of local councils and community partnerships, could come to fruition if the right funding was available for them to bid for. It is therefore vital that we conserve what was formerly ERDF and ESF funding.
I thank the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) for his work on the all-party group for post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas. He produced an excellent report in November 2018. Will the Minister assure the House that the shared prosperity fund will be sufficiently funded, and flexible enough to take account of the diverse needs of my constituency, with its many struggling rural ex-mining communities that bear the legacy of a harsh industrial past, as well as those towns whose high streets have been ravaged by the change in shopping trends and, sadly, the demise of local banks?