University Alliance queries government inaction over UK Shared Prosperity Fund

Twelve universities join industry figures in an open letter to the government calling for details on the replacement for vital EU funds

As the UK approaches the end of the EU exit transition period, University Alliance (UA) is urging the government to provide immediate clarity on how it intends to deliver its promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).

Announced in 2017, and pledged again in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, the UKSPF would be public money aimed at regional economic development. It would replace European Structural and Investment (ESI) funds which, says UA, have enabled fruitful collaboration between universities and business, increasing employment and skills, driving forward research, innovation and enterprise, and developing communities and regions.

Although existing ESI-funded programmes end in 2023, the government has communicated few details around how the UKSPF will be operated and under what timescales, and no consultation has taken place in the last three years.

UA’s open letter to housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick MP and business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Alok Sharma MP has been signed by 12 university vice-chancellors as well as industry representatives, including the CBI’s Matthew Percival and several regional chambers of commerce.

The letter asks for clarity on the UKSPF and points out that without the timely replacement of ESI funds, many of the projects and schemes universities and businesses deliver together in local areas are at risk, affecting individuals and livelihoods across the UK, at a critical time for the UK economy. The open letter also stresses the importance of ensuring the further integration of research and innovation as a central theme of the UKSPF.

We run the risk of a gap emerging between funding regimes and the programmes they support, resulting in people, infrastructure and relationships disappearing and ultimately the erosion of the ecosystem we have worked so hard to establish – Jane Turner, Teesside University

“EU structural funds have been a vital mechanism for universities to support businesses and communities – especially throughout the pandemic,” said Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the mission group for professional and technical universities.

“Details of their replacement, the UKSPF, have been promised but not delivered, and time is running out as we approach the end of the Brexit transition period.

“University and business leaders want to work constructively and proactively with the government now to address the current economic challenges and reduce inequalities between regions. Given the uncertainty ahead, it has never been more important to deliver the UKSPF, which will be a vehicle for the much needed long-term planning and investment needed to level-up the nation.”

UA member and pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business engagement at Teesside University, Professor Jane Turner OBE DL added:

Alliance universities are anchor institutions for our regions, truly civic in our mission. We work with local businesses and partners to catalyse economic growth, drive regeneration and are therefore perfectly positioned to help deliver the government’s levelling-up agenda.

“At Teesside University alone, we have leveraged over £50m of EU Structural funds. These have delivered infrastructure and innovation such as our National Horizons Centre, and supported over 1000 SMEs; directly supporting jobs and regional businesses in the Tees Valley.

“With the existing funding due to end and no plan in place for the UKSPF, we run the risk of a gap emerging between funding regimes and the programmes they support, resulting in people, infrastructure and relationships disappearing and ultimately the erosion of the ecosystem we have worked so hard to establish.

“To continue doing our part to address current and future challenges, we need greater transparency and an open dialogue with government on the priorities, how they plan to administer and deliver the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and in what timescales. Ultimately, as the end of the Brexit transition approaches and the severe impact of Covid continues to challenge our economic and social infrastructure, we need answers and a plan.”

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