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The UK Government has committed to rolling out a successor programme to the European structural funds, post-European Union exit, called the UK shared prosperity fund. Following initial discussions in late 2018 and early 2019, the UK Government failed to provide any clarity on the details of the fund. That is still the case. The Scottish Government will continue to press the UK Government on the matter.
Against that background of uncertainty, this Government is undertaking a consultation to ensure that stakeholders are empowered to shape the development of the Scottish approach to any potential replacement.
The member will be aware of my commitment to those issues, particularly given the constituency that I represent. However, there have been no such commitments from the UK Government. The UK Government, in its only statement on the fund, indicated that it would endeavour to use the moneys to support the UK industrial strategy. To me, that does not sound as though the UK Government will be responsive to the needs of rural Scotland.
Yesterday, I met the Scottish Cities Alliance, and the convener of Highland Council phoned in to the meeting. There was the view that there needs to be a strong Scottish dimension, and that the flexibility that existed in the structural funds programme should continue to exist. Of course, the Scottish Government has made it clear that the devolved settlement must be recognised in any new system of distributing the funds.
The Scottish Government looks forward to hearing views through the consultation that we are undertaking. I would welcome David Stewart’s participation in the consultation, so that he can give his views. We will bring forward our own proposals. However, as with many things with Brexit, in the end, it will depend on the UK Government’s decision. So far, it appears to be mired in confusion and without any ability to say what it wants to achieve or how it will achieve it.