Whenever I’m losing faith in the American political system, I look to our British colleagues dealing with Brexit and think: “It could be worse.” The ongoing Brexit process is a colossal disaster with ripple effects across the British government and society. Our British economic and community development colleagues are in the midst of it too, as they struggle to create what they are calling the Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). This fund is designed to replace the billions of regional development funds that were previously invested to support distressed regions across the UK. For some regions, such as Wales, the EU has provided a sizable level of investment.
The Shared Prosperity Fund was first proposed by the Conservative Government in 2017, with formal consultations and planning to be completed by late 2018. This work has not yet been completed, and the process has been described as “maddening” by some observers. Over the past year, there has been a lively debate on what the UKSPF should look like. Here are interesting takes from a special All-Parliamentary Group, the Institute for Economic Development, and other advocacy organizations like Locality, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the Federation of Small Businesses.
I won’t summarize all the details here, but simply point out that Brexit is and will continue to have massive repercussions for how the UK supports economic development. While the high-level UK-EU negotiations continue, critically important policy decisions are also being made. It’s not just about how to replace the lost funds, but the debate also addresses key questions such as the role of local governments, the focus of new investments, and procedures for accessing and measuring the impact of UKSPF funds. The current overall uncertainty around Brexit suggests that the UK’s distressed regions will not fare better under the new rules and regimes.