UK Government's Shared Prosperity Fund for Scotland is real devolution in action – Alister Jack MP
It’s not a very difficult question. Indeed, the answer is obvious. The people living in Scotland’s communities are best placed to bring prosperity to their areas.
They are the ones with the local knowledge to tackle impediments to economic progress. They have the insight to diagnose what type of initiative will enable places to thrive – whether that is through regenerating struggling inner cities, creating employment or improving transport links in remote areas.
In the UK Government, we are profound believers in local-led approaches and we want to avoid the mistakes of the past when delivering for communities has been hampered by needless complications.
That’s why working together to give locals the power to deliver positive change for communities is right at the heart of the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda.
As a UK Government, we understand that empowering those on the ground is a far better way of tackling inequality than centralising power in either Edinburgh or London.
And it is also far more effective than relying on the whim of EU bureaucrats, which was too often the way of the past.
It wasn’t so long ago that the UK was sending huge sums of money to Brussels then receiving some of it back in the form of regional aid.
Regardless of whether you were for or against Brexit, it was an unnecessarily cumbersome system with the money returning to the UK bundled in red tape – not to mention all sorts of other strings attached.
For example, EU requirements for applicants to find huge amounts of matched-funding made it hard for poorer places to access the cash under the old, unwieldy system.
EU withdrawal allows us to take back control of the regeneration of our communities in the way that local people believe best. That ethos underpins this latest and hugely important stage of the UK Government’s Levelling Up programme.
The new UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), launched yesterday, will replace EU Structural Funds, delivering £212 million to the areas of Scotland which need it the most.
The cash, which matches the EU grant schemes it replaces, means places across Scotland will get a conditional allocation of funding for the next three years.
Rules for the scheme, developed with Scottish councils and the Scottish Government, will give local places a high degree of flexibility. Whether it’s regenerating run down high streets or measures to help get more young people decent jobs, the new fund will help places right across Scotland tackle local problems, and seize new opportunities.
Decisions will be led by elected members of local government, with input from MPs, business groups and local organisations such as voluntary groups.
As Scottish Secretary, I have been working closely with my colleague Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, to ensure UKSPF will deliver for Scotland.
Likewise, my Scotland Office ministerial colleague Iain Stewart has been working with his Levelling Up counterpart Neil O’Brien to thrash out the details of the fund so that it will be distributed fairly, benefitting the areas and people most in need.
Local funding will be based on a broad measure of need, including unemployment levels, income levels, skills requirements, productivity and the particular needs of Scotland’s rural areas and island communities.
It is a formula which will ensure that those areas – particularly in the Highlands and Islands – which have traditionally benefited from EU funds will not lose out. At the same time, areas which did not do so well from the EU system now stand to benefit.
It builds on our Levelling Up Fund and Community Ownership Fund, which has resulted in urban and rural communities benefiting from more than £170m to revitalise their areas.
The imaginative and highly effective proposals to attract investment, bring employment, improve infrastructure and stimulate economic growth are a glowing testimony to the advantages of a local-led approach.
A similar story can be told when the innovative response to the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund – which delivered £18m to Scotland as a prelude to UKSPF – is considered.
From stimulating employment and improving skills in deprived urban areas to decarbonising transport in islands and other rural areas, this huge package of UK Government funds will transform communities while offering devolution in its purest form.
This approach includes a strong emphasis on equipping people with the skills to succeed.
Hence, the UKSPF package for Scotland includes more than £36m for the UK-wide adult numeracy programme – Multiply.
Multiply will support people with no or low-level maths skills to get into work through free personal tutoring, digital training and flexible courses.
It is scheme that will help those who have been failed in the past through no fault of their own, by improving their economic prospects and that of their families.
Moving forward, the UK Government will do its utmost to make sure it is local people, not faceless Brussels pen-pushers, deciding how cash is distributed.
That way we will rip through the red-tape. It will allow us to make sure that opportunity is spread to the parts of the country which are full of talent and potential, but which have been overlooked and undervalued for far too long.
As the pandemic and recent events in Ukraine have forcibly demonstrated, we live in an uncertain world. Whatever challenges the world throws against us, the UK Government is determined the people of Scotland and the UK are in the best possible position to prosper. Delivering real devolution to our local communities will help us do that.
Alister Jack is Secretary of State for Scotland and Conservative MP for Dumfries and Galloway
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