Victoria Prentis MP
Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
2 Marsham Street
31 March 2022
You wrote to me on 24 December 2021 giving an update on your work on the UK Seafood Fund and your engagement with officials from the Scottish Government and the other Devolved Administrations (DAs). You also gave me an assurance that you would continute to work with us to ensure the fund gives preferential treatment to those bids which fit within Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s policy approaches and strategies.
We have welcomed engagement by your officials with Scottish Government officials on the Infrastructure Pillar, the largest pillar of the UK Seafood Fund at £65 million over 3 years. However, your announcement on 29 March 2022 of the launch of the Pillar fails to fully deliver on the commitments in your letter. As I have emphasised on a number of occasions, by spending directly in areas of devolved competence like marine funding, the UK Government risks undermining the strategic objectives of each of the Devolved Governments
For example, in Scotland, the key Fair Work First policy of the Scottish Government seeks to ensure that bodies which receive public funding act fairly and responsibly towards their workforce, paying the real living wage and ensuring there is a ‘workplace voice’. I know Scottish Government officials pressed for this policy to apply to applications to the UK Seafood Fund and be a requirement for successful bids, if only in Scotland. Despite these efforts, the lack of agreement across the four nations to implementing this policy, and operational challenges on limiting implementation to Scottish bids only, has resulted in this key Scottish Government policy not being reflected in the UK Seafood Fund. This is most disappointing and is just one example of the significant challenges and risks to effective spend of public money encountered when the UK Government chooses to spend directly in an area of devolved competence – notwithstanding the overall disregard for devolution.
It is for Scottish Ministers, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to make spending decisions in this devolved area, to ensure that spending aligns, holistically, with our priorities and best supports the marine sectors here in Scotland. The approach being taken by the UK Government to this Fund and to marine funding more generally since Brexit is very far from what was promised by a plethora of UK Government Ministers and risks serious harm to Scottish interests, given that we have the largest share of these for the whole of the UK.
In your letter of 24 December 2021 you also mentioned that £1 million had been dedicated to seafood promotion activities and that you would announce further details in 2022. To date there has been no engagement with Scottish Government officials on this part of the fund and we are still not clear what the purpose of this fund will be, and how it will be administered in Scotland. This is all the more important given the continuing negative impacts of EU Exit and developing challenges in international markets and supply chains. We have a right to expect full and meaningful engagement on this – better still, we would of course prefer that devolved competences be respected and a fair and appropriate share of this funding to be transferred to Scotland to allow us to make our own decisions that best suits Scottish seafood interests and needs.
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