Chair’s blog – October 2017
by Mark Duddridge,
Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)
Later this year we expect to hear more about exactly what the Government has in mind when it talks about its ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’.
The new fund is designed to replace EU economic aid and was a key part of the Conservatives’ manifesto in May.
It said: “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. The money that is spent will help deliver sustainable, inclusive growth based on our modern industrial strategy. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be cheap to administer, low in bureaucracy and targeted where it is needed most.”
On the face of it that’s good news for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly because inequality has been an unfortunate hallmark of our economy for decades. We still have below-average wages, poor productivity and some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England.
But we also have great strengths and the job of the LEP, working with business and our local authorities, is to champion those strengths and make sure we harness them to grow our businesses, upskill our people and create quality jobs.
The Government has pledged to consult widely on the Shared Prosperity Fund and has asked LEPs to lead on regional responses. Our chief executive Sandra Rothwell is chairing a national group of LEPs that is working with Government officials to inform this work. We expect a formal consultation later in the autumn and a launch of the fund in late 2018.
Both the LEP and Cornwall Council have been working for some time preparing evidence to inform Government’s thinking about the Shared Prosperity Fund as it will replace the current EU programmes and potentially many of the other funding streams once the UK has left the EU.
Although we await the details of how the new fund will operate, there are three key principles that we are promoting which we believe will deliver the biggest benefit to our economy while contributing significantly to the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
The first is to call for a single pot investment programme that can achieve a holistic approach to economic development that is efficient, inclusive, and has maximum impact. For too long we have been forced to bid into different silos of funding. We want a single investment pot.
Our second principle is that we have local decision-making. Our region has administered EU funding programmes for more than 20 years. We know what works and what doesn’t. The Cornwall Devolution Deal two years ago gave us greater controls over funding, so we want to build on that local accountability and flexible delivery.
The third principle is about how we measure the impact of investment. Historically, measuring progress and performance has been based on outputs, rather than outcomes. An example is measuring how many hours of support a business might have received (outputs), rather than how that has actually benefitted the business in terms of increased sales, better skills or improved productivity (outcomes).
This might sound a bit esoteric but it’s really important in a rural area like ours where delivery costs of funding programmes are significantly higher than urban areas. Measuring everything on outputs distorts the value for money equation so we need a better way that takes account of rurality.
All these issues were raised recently with Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid during a visit to Cornwall with Steve Baker MP, Minister for Exiting the European Union. I was part of a round table discussion chaired by Cornwall Council Chief Executive Kate Kennally with the Secretary of State to discuss the opportunities and challenges of Brexit.
It was very useful to outline to the Secretary of State some of our thinking around how the Shared Prosperity Fund could work for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, while delivering against the Government’s growth agenda.
Brexit Minister Steve Baker was also involved in a round-table event hosted by the LEP with local pharmaceutical businesses at the Tremough Innovation Centre. Among the issues raised were the ability to export easily to the EU after Brexit, continued ability to recruit talent from the EU, and ongoing scientific links with member states.
We are still awaiting the outcome of a funding bid to Government to support the creation of a Spaceport, and have been told to expect a decision before the end of the financial year.