(Title Image: South East Wales Regional Engagement Team)
Yesterday, the Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) updated the Senedd on work behind the scenes on replacements for EU structural funding after Brexit.
The Finance Secretary believed there was an “emerging consensus” on how regional structural funds should work:
“We need a system that focuses on functional Welsh regions, providing them and local areas with the authority to make more decisions; a system that is less bureaucratic, but still rooted in the partnership model that has served us well; a system that is based on an open rulebook, but with less rigidity in geography and in purpose; a system that provides a full return on public investment but that is proportionate in arrangements for access, monitoring and audit.”
– Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford
The Welsh Government continues to press the UK Government on the Leave campaign’s promise that Wales “wouldn’t be a penny worse off”. Underlining the importance of current EU funds, the Secretary said 8,400 jobs have been created and 11,000 more people helped into work during the current round of funding alone.
Shadow External Affairs Minister, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), found it “bizarre” that this statement was being made when there are already commitments by London to consult on their proposed Shared Prosperity Fund. However, he had doubts:
“Let me put on record right now that I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in the ability of the Welsh Labour-led Government to distribute any funds across Wales in a fair and just manner to those parts of the country that need them. Just look at the local government settlement that we had last week: it’s very clear that you like to distribute cash to certain places in Wales, to the detriment of others, including north Wales, mid Wales, and west Wales.”
Shadow External Affairs Minister, Darren Millar AM
Darren also questioned the impact of present EU funds, with Wales “going backwards” on many key economic measures. Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) vehemently disagreed, pointing to a number of EU-funded projects in his constituency which have provided real benefits and accusing the Tories of neglecting areas that have suffered from their policies.
Naturally, the Finance Secretary also disagreed: there were no timetables or details for the Shared Prosperity Fund. Echoing comments from last week, he rejected any notion of “cronyism” in the distribution of council funding.
Plaid Cymru was in broad agreement with the Welsh Government’s stance:
“Can I say I find it quite amusing—that’s probably not the right word—when Conservatives squawk and croak about funding formulas when Wales has been shafted by the Barnett formula for many, many years with very little protest from the benches opposite?”
– Steffan Lewis AM (Plaid, South Wales East)
“We cannot wait for the UK Government to move on all this”
Responding to Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North), the Finance Secretary said that while he welcomed the UK Government’s commitment to maintaining other EU funds like Horizon 2020, he was frustrated that it’s taking a long time for the UK Government to respond to Wales.
Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) made a further point about a lack of UK Government engagement:
“….when the Secretary of State (for Wales) was invited earlier this year to attend the Finance Committee on this inquiry, he declined that invitation, saying he didn’t think it necessary for him to attend in person, but telling us that this was a priority for Government and that ‘they will engage with you at the earliest opportunity’. Well, that was back in May; we’re now in October…”
– Jane Hutt AM