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It is a pleasure to speak under your chairpersonship, Ms McDonagh. I thank my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield for securing the debate.
It has been three years and three days since the EU referendum. During that time, the Government have failed to negotiate a decent Brexit deal, and that has resulted in uncertainty in our economy, for my constituents and throughout the country. My constituents voted to leave the European Union but they did not vote for their rights to be watered down, for their jobs to be at risk or for a less prosperous future for their children.
South Yorkshire has had its challenges and its triumphs. I am proud of our region’s strong manufacturing base, which has remained resilient despite the devastation of the 1980s under the Thatcher Government. European structural funds, particularly from the European regional development fund—the ERDF—for infrastructure and the European social fund for employment, have been important elements in rebuilding our regional economy since those days. I have seen how the funds have had huge impacts in my constituency of Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. We have fantastic facilities such as SOAR Works, which is a managed workspace at Parson Cross funded through the ERDF, and Building Better Opportunities—a great scheme to get disabled people in Sheffield into employment that has received £2 million from the European social fund.
Sadly, the Government’s record on supporting the north has been a travesty and has held back the economy in our area. Everyone in Sheffield remembers that one of the very first actions of the coalition Government was to cancel a crucial £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters—a clear sign that investing in the north was not a priority. The Government still talk of a northern powerhouse in slogans, but warm words will not cut it. The north needs investment to turbocharge our economy and to give communities the jobs, skills and opportunities that they deserve.
Under the EU system we would be entitled to a higher level of investment. As the report notes, South Yorkshire would be entitled to more than €500 a head in the next six-year period, which could amount to around £30 million for my constituency alone: a massive amount of money. We have seen food bank use rocket, particularly after the roll-out of universal credit. If the Government fail to invest in areas such as South Yorkshire, we will see more people struggle and rely on food banks to survive.
The 2017 Conservative manifesto stated:
“We will use the structural fund money that comes back to the UK following Brexit to create a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund”.
The fund is to be targeted, flexible and devolved, and it is intended to promote inclusive growth. But although they constantly refer to it as the means by which they will
“tackle inequalities between communities...especially in those parts of our country whose economies are furthest behind”,
the Government have yet to offer any clarity on how it will work or the mechanisms by which it will be distributed.
As we know, the Government said they would consult on the proposals, but here we are in June 2019 and the consultation is still not forthcoming. Will the Minister take this opportunity to assure my constituents in Brightside and Hillsborough that the Government will cover any shortfall that results from leaving the EU? Furthermore, the Minister will be aware that the framework for distribution of the ERDF in the period from 2021 to 2027 has the funding of low-carbon schemes at its heart. Will the Minister commit to a similar focus in the shared prosperity fund in response to the climate emergency?