The Scottish Affairs Committee has called for a consultation to commence by the Autumn on the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).
The UKSPF is due to start in 2022 to replace European Structural and Investment Funds following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
While the committee welcomed initial commitments by the UK Government that there will be a consultation on the design of the scheme, this is yet to come to fruition.
A statement explained that it is vital that bodies across Scotland – including local authorities – are consulted, given the focus of the UKSPF on local businesses, communities and investing in skills and employment.
The committee also noted that it is unclear how much funding Scotland will receive through UKSPF.
While the UK Government has given its assurances that Scotland’s allocation will be the same – or greater – than EU funds, the members called for clarity on how much funding this equates to per year, for the first five years of the scheme.
EU rural development funding through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), is due to end later this year, and there is a risk that expertise and capacity could be lost due to the ongoing level of uncertainty.
European Structural and Investment Funds benefited universities across Scotland, with the committee hearing evidence that EU research grants were 14% higher than those received by universities in the rest of the UK.
Its funding allocations to universities in the Highlands also ensured more people stayed in the region, boosting its skills and employment opportunities.
The committee has therefore asked the UK Government to prioritise academic research funding when allocating UKSPF resources, and that it should collaborate with the Scottish Government to ensure structural funding brings significant regional benefits.
Committee chair Pete Wishart said: “It is no secret that Scotland benefited significantly from EU funds and led to many communities and universities to prosper.
“While we have been assured that UK replacement funds will match or exceed EU funds, we are yet to see any evidence of this – nor have we been able to access information on the design of the UKSPF or how locations will be selected to receive grants.
“It is bewildering that there seems to have been no formal consultation and time is fast running out before the fund begins next year,” he continued, adding: “Our committee urges the UK Government to consult urgently and to provide clarity on funding for what could be a vital lifeline for businesses, universities and communities across Scotland.”
The committee’s recommendations are:
- The UK Government must launch a formal, public consultation on its proposals for the UKSPF by the Autumn, with governments working together in the design and delivery of the UKSPF.
- The UK Government’s multi-year funding profile should clarify how much funding will be available each year for the UK and for Scotland for at least the first five years of the UKSPF.
- The UK Government must clarify how and when EU rural development funding, including the EAFRD and EMFF, will be replaced.
- In March 2022, a year after it began, the UK Government should evaluate the Community Renewal Fund and publish its findings on how well the fund has operated.
- The UK Government should ensure that its methodology and criteria for allocating UKSPF funds are clear and transparent.
- The UK Government should clarify how much funding has been given to local authorities in Scotland to help them build capacity in developing bids for the UKSPF.
- The UK Government should prioritise academic research funding when allocating resources under the UKSPF.
- The UK Government should evaluate the progress of the UKSPF after one year of operation and publish a report, to ensure that funding is delivering the levelling up agenda by being allocated to the areas and sectors of greatest need.
The committee comprises: Pete Wishart (SNP, Perth and North Perthshire), Mhairi Black (SNP, Paisley and Renfrewshire South), Andrew Bowie (Con, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine), Deidre Brock (SNP, Edinburgh North and Leith), Wendy Chamberlain (Lid Dem, North East Fife), Alberto Costa (Con, South Leicestershire), Jon Cruddas (Lab, Dagenham and Rainham), Sally-Ann Hart (Con, Hastings and Rye), John Lamont (Con, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk), Douglas Ross (Con, Moray) and Liz Twist (Lab, Blaydon).
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