Today in Parliament I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the Shared Prosperity Fund. After we leave the EU the Fund is meant to replace the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund that have provided billions of pounds to Wales. Despite its importance it has been assigned to the England-focused Department for Housing and Local Government and the Tories have refused to guarantee that it will replace penny for penny the funding being lost. This is emblematic of the chaos and incompetence engulfing Brexit and another reason why I hope we choose to remain.
You can watch my speech here, and read the full transcript below.
Thank you. It is a pleasure to see you again in the Chair today.
Congratulations to my good friend, the hon member for Wrexham, for securing this debate today. He has had far more luck getting this debate than I have had getting answers from the Secretary of State and his conveyor belt of ministers to my 18 questions on the Shared Prosperity Fund over the past 13 months.
In March 2016, during the Welsh Grand Debate I raised the issue of European Structural Funding and what plans the Government had to provide an adequate replacement.
After two years and less than 5 months out from the scheduled exit date, we know precisely 3 things;
- we know it will be called the Shared Prosperity Fund
- we know it will be run by the England focused Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government and;
- we know there will be a consultation at some point
But that’s it. So maybe today – and I appreciate that the Minister is new to his position and I welcome him to it, the latest on a conveyor belt of Welsh Office Ministers – maybe today he could give us more than this superficial information.
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and European Social Funds (ESF) alone provided £2.1 billion to Wales between 2014 and 2016 and inspired a further £1.1 billion in match funding.
In 2016 I spoke about the importance of Cardiff University’s Brain Research and Imaging Centre in my constituency, which was only possible with £4.5 million of ERDF funding. This brain imaging centre is providing cutting edge research into dementia, schizophrenia and other diseases of the brain. In years to come schizophrenia patients at the University Hospital of Wales and across the country will benefit from treatments improved by, or developed from, research at CUBRIC.
European Union funding is the lifeblood of the three universities in my constituency. It’s why, every single week I have researchers from those universities contacting me with their concerns about the Government’s failure to commit to underwriting funding after the end of Horizon 2020. It’s already impacting on funding bids. They tell me that the Government’s likely salary cap on EU citizens being permitted to work in the UK after Brexit will decimate critical international research collaboration. And still no answers from the Government.
But ERDF, ESF and other EU funding streams haven’t just funded big infrastructure projects like research centres across Wales. Last week I visited 4 primary schools in my constituency.
Every day, the children in those schools have a carton of milk provided through the European Union School Milk Scheme.. Now we know that the Conservative Party has never been a fan of children’s school milk, so can the Minister guarantee to me that the children in my constituency will continue to receive free milk at school every day?
We also know we can’t trust the Government to green light projects for Wales. For example both the tidal lagoon and rail electrification have been ditched by this Government.
From a Welsh perspective, this Shared Prosperity Fund won’t be properly shared, will deliver little prosperity, and contains less funding for Wales than we’ve had as members of the European Union.