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EU Structural Funds: Least Developed Regions — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:56 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Party Chair, Co-operative Party 2:56 pm, 26th June 2019

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield on securing this important and timely debate on the future of regional development spending.

I speak on behalf of my region, the Tees valley, which has been a net beneficiary of Britain’s EU membership. In fact, it has often been the case that EU regional development funding has better supported my region than our own Governments have done. In the current spending period, 2014 to 2020, the Tees Valley has been allocated £198.1 million of EU regional funding. Those funds have provided vital investment, including in research and development and innovation, boosting small and medium-sized businesses, helping to retrain and upskill the local workforce, and supporting our area’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

There has been funding for the youth employment initiative to help to tackle our youth unemployment, which is two and a half times the national average. However, that investment has simply not been enough to offset the damage wrought by the UK Government’s austerity agenda. According to analysis by Institute for Public Policy Research, £6.3 billion of public spending has been taken from the north under austerity, while the south has gained £3.2 billion. That austerity has caused the public sector workforce in the north-east to fall by almost a quarter, with a huge knock-on effect to local economies.

We still have pacer trains running on yet-to-be electrified lines, despite the promise of better upgrades, while billions of pounds are poured into London’s Crossrail. Many communities are no longer served by bus routes, as subsidies have been slashed. Meanwhile, the crisis at British Steel threatens to put another great British industry, deeply rooted in the north, out of action because Whitehall has failed to create the level playing field that the steel industry so desperately needs.

Our region would now be classed as a lesser developed region. The Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions estimates that the region of Tees valley and Durham would be classified as a less developed region by the EU post 2020, putting us among the poorest regions in Europe and therefore entitling us to more money. That is absolutely shocking and demonstrates how regional inequality has skyrocketed under this Government.

At this crucial time when we need a greater share of regional development funding to give our area a boost, we do not yet know how the Government intend to allocate regional funding when EU policy no longer applies. The UK Government’s proposed UK shared prosperity fund is very light on detail. If their record is anything to go by—allocating money to the areas with the highest economic return, which typically are the areas that are already the wealthiest—my area could massively lose out again. If we were to remain EU members, the CPMR estimates that, based on current population numbers, the Tees valley would be entitled to more than £270 million between 2021 and 2027. That is money that we desperately need. That share of the pot reflects the huge regional inequalities across our country, and it would make a massive difference to growth in my region.