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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield on securing this important debate. I am pleased to see Members here from all parties and from every corner of the United Kingdom, especially from communities in our least developed regions, such as those in South Yorkshire, where I am proud to serve as Mayor and MP. Such communities are among the hardest-hit by austerity, by stalled economic growth, and by the failure of successive Governments to address widening regional inequalities.
The stark truth is that, from 2020 onwards, funding allocated to regions by the EU will come to an end, and 2021 marks the end of the Government’s local growth fund programme. Taken together, those funds have been the glue holding together many of our communities. What replaces those funds must replace them on the basis of what would have been received had the referendum result been different. The creation of a shared prosperity fund provides a vital opportunity to do things differently. To heal the divisions in our country and to turn the dial in those least developed regions, we must think and do differently.
The UK has one of the most centralised political systems in the world, with the inevitable consequence that some of the decisions taken by Westminster and Whitehall, however well-intentioned, do not reflect the needs or opportunities of local areas. Those living in the UK’s least developed regions are feeling the impact of the equality gap, which grows ever wider. I am hugely positive about our collective ability in the north of England to make real progress, provided that we have the right powers underpinned by the right resources. My hon. Friend Anna Turley mentioned the Power Up The North campaign, and increasingly there seems to be a growing recognition that the answers to the many challenges that we face do not lie in Westminster or Whitehall.
In the final minute that I have available to me, I will rattle through the four principles that I have set out for the shared prosperity fund.