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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:01 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth 3:01 pm, 26th June 2019

I agree that it is important that the Government honour their commitment to provide regions with the same sort of money as they would have got had we remained in the European Union. That was a clear commitment made by our party at the last general election. We will be working hard to make sure that whoever leads our party honours that commitment.

We should have opportunities to make decisions about how that money is spent, and I want those decisions to be made locally. The great city regions—I know the hon. Member for Barnsley Central is doing a good job as the Mayor of the Sheffield city region—must work in partnership. When I was a Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, I saw the opportunity for central Government Departments to work in partnership with the metro mayors to innovate in their regions; that is something Government should be proud of and advancing.

It is not only regions or metropolitan areas with mayors that can work with Government in that way. Single-tier authorities, such as Cornwall Council and the Council of the Isles of Scilly, in partnership with our local enterprise partnership, can work on greater devolution and have far more say about how the money should be spent in our region.

In my remaining time, I want to touch on the European social fund. Debates are usually about roads, bricks and mortar rather than about the ESF’s work helping people who have been out of work, and far from the labour market, into work. There has been a huge amount of innovation under this Government, particularly led by the Department for Work and Pensions, working with metro mayors. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central has been pivotal to that work, and there has been great deal of learning.

I would like the big, national work programmes contracted by the DWP to stop at the end of this round, and I would like that money to be spent by devolving it into partnerships in regions. We have an excellent local enterprise partnership in Cornwall, with a good skills committee, which is addressing the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives articulated so well: the need to develop skills and get people into work for the economy of the future. The best approach would be to enable regions to commission employment services that meet the needs of their communities.

Obviously, we have to be mindful of the market. We have to have a thriving market in people who provide those services, but that could be done at the same time as enabling greater local partnership. Then we would see the real progress in our economy that we want to see, in Cornwall and in every part of our community, and closing the unacceptable gaps in people’s life chances.