UK Shared Prosperity Fund? No I hadn’t heard of it either

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund? No I hadn’t heard of it either
Policy Officer Aidan Campbell blogs on the EU Structural Funds and their proposed successor post-Brexit the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Ever heard of the European Union Structural Funds?  The purpose of the Structural Funds is to promote what the EU calls “cohesion” to reduce economic and social disparities amongst its member states, a key aim of EU regional policy.  This means that the EU invests Structural Funds in regions which have lower rates of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than the EU average to enable them to catch up with those that are more prosperous.  So, for example, structural funds can be spent on building or improving infrastructure such as roads, ports or bridges or it can be spent on re-training adult learners who are long term unemployed.

Between 1989 and 1999 Northern Ireland had what was called Objective 1 status.  Objective 1 status was given by the EU to those regions that had GDP that was lower than 75% of the EU average GDP.  Objective 1 status areas attracted higher levels of EU Structural Fund investment.  Northern Ireland, located on the periphery of Europe, had endured the decline of heavy industry since the 1950s and was embroiled in the Troubles so it retained Objective 1 status until 1999.  The region has benefitted from EU Structural Funds of approximately €5,356M  between 1989 and 2013.

Structural Funds include the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and others click here for more detail on structural funds programmes in NI.  The current structural funds programme between 2014-2020 is worth €3,532.5 million in NI.  These sums are match funded by resources from government departments.  Whether the structural funds ever achieved their aim is debatable but a lot of money was invested.

The UK government has committed to underwrite the full value of the 2014-2020 structural funds programme but after Brexit the UK will no longer benefit from structural funds.  The Structural Funds will be replaced by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).  This was a commitment made in the Tory party manifesto for the 2017 general election to use money which comes back to the UK as a consequence of leaving the EU to reduce inequality:
“We will use the structural fund money that comes back to the UK following Brexit to create a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund, specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations.”

At a “pre-consultation” meeting earlier this month rural stakeholder organisations were invited to give their views on what the outcomes of a UKSPF might be and to talk about their experience of accessing EU structural funds.  At the meeting a short presentation was given by the UKSPF team who stated that the key objective of the UKSPF was to:
“tackle inequalities between communities by raising productivity, especially in those parts of the UK whose economies are furthest behind.”

The UKSPF aims to align with the Industrial Strategy in England and will work across the UK whilst respecting the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.