(Title Image: Reuters via thenational.ae)
Following the publication of figures which suggest there could be a £2.32billion decrease in the money Wales would receive in structural funding from the UK Government after Brexit when compared to the EU, a timely debate took place in the Senedd yesterday.
- Notes that Wales receives around £370m every year in structural and investment funds from the EU and also notes that promises were made during the EU referendum that Wales would not lose a penny as a result of Brexit.
- Regrets the lack of detail from the UK Government about its proposals for a UK Shared Prosperity Fund and that it failed to respect devolution in developing these proposals.
- Rejects the idea of a centralised/UK-directed fund or one which seeks to bypass the devolved administrations.
- Calls on the UK Government to fulfil the promise that Wales would not lose a penny as a result of Brexit and ensure Wales retains powers to develop successor arrangements for structural and investment funding.
Need for clarity “vital”
Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), told the chamber that there was a distinct lack of clarity from the UK Government on how the £370million a year Wales receives in EU structural funding will be replaced after Brexit, despite announcing a Shared Prosperity Fund two years ago. Structural funding has been used on a wide range of different projects, with 48,000 new jobs and 300,000 qualifications delivered.
“We have called for not a penny less than we would have expected within the EU, simply asking for the promises made to the people of Wales during the 2016 referendum to be honoured. We have also called for the Welsh Government to retain autonomy in the development and delivery of successor arrangements….The UK Government has committed a number of times to respect devolution in developing the Shared Prosperity Fund, but their actions have resolutely not done so.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans
Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) agreed on the need to create a fair system of structural funding and that any promises made during the referendum by the Leave campaign should be upheld. It was, however, too early to write off the Shared Prosperity Fund and it was worth waiting to see how the UK Government will iron things out.
David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) argued that the stalling of Brexit at Westminster and in the Senedd by opponents has prevented a deal being done and hindered the fund’s development – something Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) said was “extraordinary”; a government accusing the opposition if they can’t get their own business done.
Like handing a cheque to London
“The risk is clear that Whitehall will repeat its traditional formula of distribution of economic development funding. And look at what the figures published yesterday….tell us about what would mean. One of the campaign’s organisers said it will be like handing every Londoner a cheque for over £200 and taking £700 from every Welsh person. Wales could lose over £2.3 billion over six years, with money flowing to the prosperous south-east of England.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) wanted to see the 2016 Leave promises honoured and broadly agreed with the motion – though the £370million a year in EU structural funding was “our money”.
Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) reminded the chamber there were people behind the figures who’ve been supported through various EU programmes – whether that’s the unemployed, minority groups, parents seeking childcare or women. All of that was now up in the air.
The scale of the challenge
“I want to reiterate the scale of the challenge. If we are under any illusion as to how critical that is, the statistics in that….report that was issued yesterday set that out so starkly for us. If we don’t make our arguments successfully….Wales could lose in funding the equivalent of £743.11 for every citizen.”
– Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley)
Chair of the External Affairs Committee, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon), stressed that structural funding should be based on need and not population shares. The UK was already one of the most unequal nations in Europe; one of the most prosperous nations overall, yet home to some of the poorest regions.
This was backed by the Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), who criticised a lack of engagement by the Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, who refused to give evidence to his committee. Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) said the Welsh Secretary’s backing for Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership contest – who’s promising large tax cuts for the wealthy – was a sign of the direction of travel.