These EU documents are politically important because:
1.1In 2018, the European Commission published various proposals setting out arrangements for EU structural funding over the period 2021–27. Following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the UK does not expect to participate in those programmes, with the exception of the PEACE PLUS Programme on the island of Ireland under the “European Territorial Cooperation” (ETC) Regulation. The ETC goal of the Funds (otherwise known as “Interreg”—inter-regional cooperation) is a long-established strand, designed to promote regional cooperation across borders within the EU. It includes the PEACE PLUS Programme, specifically designed to support cooperation across the Irish border, but also includes several other Programmes involving the UK. One such Programme, for example, promotes cooperation among areas around the North Sea
1.2Our predecessors considered these documents on a number of occasions and had been told initially by the Government that it was considering wider participation in the ETC Regulation beyond PEACE PLUS. In a recent , though, the Minister for Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility (Lord Callanan) said that the UK had decided against wider participation, referring to a “comprehensive value-for-money assessment of ongoing participation in EU programmes” and noting that the ETC Programme would be replaced by the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF).
1.3Concerning the SPF specifically, we received a dated 3 June from the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government (Simon Clarke MP), explaining that decisions about the design of the fund must take place after a cross-governmental Spending Review. This information was re-iterated in a subsequent dated 19 June from the same Minister to the Chairs of various other Select Committees. The Minister declined to provide any timetable for the SPF despite the request made in the Chairs’ to him.
1.4We note the Government’s continued inability to provide any details of, or timetable for, the SPF. The lack of any clear information on the SPF renders comparative analysis against the EU structural funds — including ETC — impossible. Partly for that reason, it would be helpful to see the Government’s value-for-money analysis to which Lord Callanan referred in his recent EM. Finally, we have not received any information of late on the progress of negotiations concerning participation in PEACE PLUS.
1.5 We have written to the Minister, as set out below, raising our queries. We have copied our letter to: the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee; the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee; the Welsh Affairs Committee; the Scottish Affairs Committee; and the Future Relationship with the EU Committee.
We have considered your letter of 3 June and taken note of your later letter dated 19 June to the Chairs of various other Select Committee.
We note that you remain unable to set out any details of the Shared Prosperity Fund, or even a timetable for doing so. From the perspective of this Committee, it makes it impossible for us to assess the advantages or disadvantages of seeking participation in relevant aspects of future EU structural funds, such as the European Territorial Cooperation goal, aside from PEACE PLUS.
In a recent Explanatory Memorandum to us covering amended proposals for the future structural funds, the Minister for Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility (Lord Callanan) said:
Following a comprehensive value-for-money assessment of ongoing participation in EU programmes, HMG will not be pursuing participation in ETC, including ETC health programmes, in the MFF 2021–2027. As a structural fund, the new UKSPF will replace ESIF including ETC funding.
We do not take a position on the desirability or otherwise of participating in the ETC programmes (other than PEACE PLUS) and we recognise that proposals to achieve similar goals under the SPF may well be better value for money. It is incumbent on us as a scrutiny committee, however, to insist that the Government shares its analysis with us in order that Parliament is in a position to critically assess the Government’s approach.
We therefore ask that the value for money assessment referred to be shared with us by 1 September in order that we are able to take forward our scrutiny of these matters. We would also welcome any further details that you are able to share at that stage concerning the SPF, as well as information on the progress of negotiations concerning the UK’s participation in PEACE PLUS.
1 (a) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund Plus, the Cohesion Fund, and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and financial rules for those and for the Asylum and Migration Fund, the Internal Security Fund and the Border Management and Visa Instrument, (b) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Regional Development Fund and on the Cohesion Fund, (c) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), (d) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on specific provisions for the European territorial cooperation goal (Interreg) supported by the European Regional Development Fund and external financing instruments; References: (a) + ADD 1, COM(18) 375, (b) + ADDs 1–2, COM(18) 372 (c) + ADDs 1–2 COM(18) 382 (d) + ADD 1, COM(18) 374; Legal base: (a) Articles 177, 322(1)(a) and 349, TFEU (b) Articles 177, 178 and 349, TFEU (c) Articles 46(d), 149, 153(2)(a), 164, 168(5), 175(3) and 349, TFEU (d) Articles 178, 209(1), 212(2) and 349 TFEU, Ordinary legislative procedure, QMV; Departments: Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Housing, Communities and Local Government; Devolved Administrations: Consulted; ESC numbers: (a) 39801, (b)39807, (c) 39808, (d) 39811.
2 Designed to support cooperation across the Irish border.
Published: 29 July 2020