On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to speak in a Westminster Hall Debate about the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The Fund will replace EU Structural Funding post Brexit. I set out my belief that we should focus on the needs of small businesses, that there should be a ring-fenced pot of funding for rural and coastal communities, and that our farmers and fishermen should continue to be properly supported. It is also critical that we look at raising education and skill levels, in order to improve employment and life opportunities. We also need to look at investment in infrastructure, which at the moment is well below the national average.
Devon has EU transition status, and we have 11 neighbourhoods in the 25% most deprived areas of the country. My concern is that if the criteria for funding is productivity we will do badly because that measures economic contribution averaged over all residents, not just workers. We have a disproportionate number of retirees which means that we will always come up with a low figure. It is crucial that we look at the productivity question differently in rural and coastal areas.
Since 2014, Devon has done well thanks to a mixture of government and EU funding. We have developed 29,000 new homes and 28,000 new business accommodation sites, we have supported 2,000 new business start-ups and established 5,000 new training places. I want that capital inflow to continue. Therefore, we need clarity about how each individual area will get its share of the funding and what the criteria used to make that decision will be. I shall be writing to the Minister asking him to set out the steps he will be taking to ensure that Teignbridge gets its fair share of the money.
Very much linked to the Westminster Hall Debate was the session held by the Public Accounts Committee on Monday looking at Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), where I was one of the lead members. LEPs are private sector led partnerships between businesses and local public sector bodies. They were established in 2011 to drive economic growth in local areas. There are 38 LEPs in England, with ours being the Heart of the South West LEP. I expressed concern that, despite them playing a vital role in our local economy, there remains a lack of representation from SMEs on LEP boards and asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government how they intended to rectify this.
A number of constituents have told me they want urgent action to tackle the plastic waste that is blighting our environment and harming our wildlife. With 12 million tonnes of plastic ending up in the sea each year, we simply cannot wait any longer to take action. Therefore, I was delighted to attend a discussion looking at ways to stem the plastic tide and help preserve our environment for future generations.
Earlier in the week I attended an event in Parliament to discuss air pollution and the Clean Air Strategy. Newton Abbot already breaches acceptable limits and that must change. Air pollution is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK, and children are particularly vulnerable. This is due to both being nearer in height to vehicle exhaust pipes, where many particulates originate and also lungs which are still developing. Air pollution is estimated to cost society £1.7 billion every year to 2020, which will rise to £5.3 billion through to 2030. This includes the cost of treating related illnesses. I therefore welcome the government’s commitment to clean air and a healthy environment and will scrutinise carefully what steps are included in the Environment Bill to set clean air targets and reduce the risks from pollution for our children.
My next surgery is on Friday 24 May from 12pm to 2pm in Newton Abbot. Please call my office on 01626 368277 to arrange an appointment.