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I will refer to the Select Committee report which looked at a number of issues to do with local government and Brexit. I have a particular constituency interest as well, as highlighted by my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, with the advanced manufacturing park and research centre, which has done so much reinvigorate and stimulate high-tech engineering and steel in the Sheffield city region. Yes, that is down to the University of Sheffield, Professor Keith Ridgway and my former colleague Richard Caborn, but it would not have happened without EU funding. We need to be conscious of that.
The Select Committee report was clear. It said to the Government that we need to get on and to consult now about the shared prosperity fund, what it should look like and how the money might be distributed. I understand that the Chancellor may not want to commit to an absolute total of money until after the spending review, or what passes for it—I am sure that the Minister, when he responds, will update us on whether we are to have a spending review—but why can we not have a consultation on the fund details? What is holding the Government up?
The Government have known about this for a long time, and they promised a consultation before the end of last year. A simple matter of at least talking to local government about how the fund will be distributed and what the criteria will be would be a start. People might then have some understanding and a conviction that the fund would happen. Why can that not be done? Why do we have to wait until later? The Government response to the Committee’s report includes no real explanation but simply states that they “will consult widely” on the shared prosperity fund and that “final decisions” will be made “following the Spending Review”, as I quoted earlier.
Why can the consultation not begin now? It is not sufficient for the Government to say that they are reviewing their approach on consulting. Why have we only got that far? It is in no way sufficient. Ministers should tell us what is holding the consultation up. We know that the Department has a big tray of things to do—the social care Green Paper, the social housing Green Paper, fracking, and the devolution framework which we have not yet seen—so Ministers are obviously busy thinking about doing things in the future, but why can we not get on and at least start to do something? That consultation would be an extremely good start. That is an important point, which needed to be made.
Another important issue we need further clarity on sometimes gets overlooked: we will no longer be a member of the European Investment Bank, which has provided funding for many important infrastructure projects. Again, the Government say that they want to explore options for future relationships with the EIB and for the arrangements to be put in place for local authority funding of future infrastructure projects. Why can those discussions with local authorities not begin now? Why do we have to wait? That is a simple ask. It may seem a long way away, but local authorities that are looking to start long-term infrastructure projects in 2021 need to start planning now. That is why the Government need to start consulting about how those projects will be funded.