Post Brexit regional UK policy: is there one?
In many respects EU Policies have acted as a proxy for a UK regional policy.
Through the EU Territorial Cohesion Policy, European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) have been used to support economic development in Scotland both at regional and local level.
EU Regional Policy and funding have had a major impact in terms of reducing social and economic disparities. They have been a significant driver in transforming the economic and social wellbeing of the Highlands & Islands with £1.5 b invested up to now.
But after exiting the EU, UK regions including the Highlands and Islands will no longer be able to access the ESIF funds.
Post Brexit, the UK Government have announced that the so called Shared Prosperity Fund will replace ESIF funds. However, there is little clarity or detail supplied on the way the Shared prosperity fund will operate and on which the basis the funds will be distributed.
Why there should be one?
Estimates are that the Shared Prosperity Fund may only have 2% devoted to the rural economy, so the proportion of what will actually come to Scotland is still unknown.
The question is whether it can be shared equally and fairly if there are no regional policy at UK and Scottish Government level.
The Scottish Rural Parliament made a clear statement on Brexit, calling for a clear and direct UK and Scottish Government’s commitment to equality for rural people, places and enterprise in Scotland, as well as reassurance through clear commitments that the UK and Scottish Government will continue to meet the needs of rural people, places and enterprises.
Read the Scottish Rural Parliament statement here.
Scotland’s Islands and Highland deserve a coherent regional policy and support
The policy paper by HIEP – Highland and Islands European Partnership- sets out a vision for a future regional policy for Scotland that would address these concerns:
- A future Regional Policy needs to empower the region to contribute to UK and Scottish economic growth, while recognising permanent and long term challenges.
- A future Regional Policy development and delivery needs to be led by devolved administrations and regional stakeholders
- A future regional policy needs a long term strategic focus, maximising regional economic potential that is sustainable and inclusive.
The HIEP paper calls for a need to recognise and respond to regional disparity.
- A future regional policy should focus on regions with the greatest challenges
- Clear and objective criteria are required, considering spatial scale and definition of selected regions.
- There is an opportunity to consider more sophisticated selection criteria, beyond GDP per capita, for example, population sparsity, employment /participation rates, average wage levels, skill levels, economic concentration, “remoteness”, “fragility”.
Funding will need to be available over the
long term at a level commensurate with the scale
of challenge and opportunity, rather than short
term, one-off allocations of funding.
- Regional stakeholders should have an input to address
the specific regional challenges and capitalise on regional opportunities.
Regional policy should be place-based
By ensuring future regional policy is place based, there is a chance to:
- Enhance the region’s physical and digital connectivity.
- Provide investment in sectors / clusters where the region has competitive advantage, such as marine energy and life sciences – regional Smart Specialisation.
- Investment in new technologies, particularly the “Local Energy Economy”
- attract and retain talent, recognising that this is multi-faceted, including employment, education, housing, connectivity and transport.
- Invest in education and skills infrastructure and provision to match the future needs of the regional economy.
- Invest in community capacity building and resilience, leading to strong, vibrant communities.
Now is the time!
HIEP stresses that how important it is that lessons learned from our collective experience of EU programmes are captured and inform the development and delivery of successor domestic programmes.
HIEP is also stressing that time is running out. “The current structural funds programmes end in 2020 and now is the time to develop future regional policy to avoid a damaging hiatus in Regional Policy and support”, concludes their paper.
You can read the full HIEP position paper here