ROW OVER EU FUNDING REPLACEMENT
AHOME Office Minister’s refusal to confirm that the Welsh Government will be involved in administering a fund to replace Wales’ European aid money has ramped up a “power grab” row between Cardiff and London.
Counsel General and Minister for European Transition Jeremy Miles said it was “outrageous” that three years of preparatory work for the post-Brexit arrangements could be wasted because of the UK Government’s “attack on democracy”.
Mr Miles was reacting to comments made in the House of Lords by Lord Greenhalgh, a Minister of State attached jointly to the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government at Westminster.
Lord [Mike] German, a former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats at the then National Assembly, asked how the money replacing funding previously provided by the EU in Wales would be administered.
Lord Greenhalgh responded: “The UK-wide investment framework will be published later this year. In addition, to help local areas prepare over 2021 and 2022 for the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, we will provide £220m of additional UK funding to support our communities to pilot programmes and new approaches.”
The £220m for the pilot projects is much less for the whole of the UK than Wales received annually from the EU.
Lord German said: “The minister told the House last year that Wales would receive at least the same sums of money that it had previously received from the EU – that is, money that was administered by the Welsh Government to meet priorities they set in devolved areas.
“Can the Minister tell us what portion of this £400m-plus annual funding will be administered by the Welsh Government? Can the Minister reassure the House that they will not use these funds to cut across devolved areas of competence without the approval of the Welsh Government?
Lord Greenhalgh said: “The UK Government have a responsibility to support the economic health of people, businesses and communities across the entirety of our UK.
“The Government have committed that the devolved administrations will be represented on the governance structure for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.”
Former Labour Secretary of State for Wales Lord Morris of Aberavon then took up the case, asking: “Will the Minister confirm that the government are committed to at least matching current EU receipts for Wales?
“Since farming is an important way of life for so many in Wales and agriculture is a devolved matter, will the Minister give a specific assurance that funding decisions will be decided solely by the Welsh Government in this field?
Lord Greenhalgh said: “I am afraid I cannot give that assurance but we will continue to ramp up funding so that the total UK-wide funding will at least match EU receipts of, on average, around £1.5bn per year.”
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a crossbench peer, asked: “During the passage of the Internal Market Bill in both Houses, ministers committed to collaborate closely with the devolved administrations, not simply to have them represented.
“Will the previous £375m of EU structural funds now be built into the shared prosperity fund allocation to Wales, and will the Welsh Government’s framework for regional investment, which has been developed through extensive local consultation, be respected?
Lord Greenhalgh said: “I note the points made... but I think we need to wait for the UK investment framework that underpins the shared prosperity fund for those sorts of details.”
Baroness [Jenny] Randerson, the former Lib Dem AM for Cardiff Central, said: “In 2019 the Conservative manifesto promised that the shared prosperity fund would, at a minimum, match the size of EU structural funds in each nation.
“In the last six years, Wales received £400m a year in European structural and investment funds. That is £123 per person on average. I ask the minister again—to give him the opportunity to confirm today— to say that the government will be keeping their promise to Wales and that this funding will be specifically identifiable over and above current UK sources of funding.”
Lord Greenhalgh responded: “Again, we need to see the publication of the investment framework but I can commit to saying that the overall envelope of funding will be at least the amount that we receive from EU structural funds of around £1.5bn per year.”
Another former Labour Welsh Secretary, Lord [Peter] Hain, asked: “Can the minister confirm that, far from increasing funding through the Barnett formula to devolved governments as was promised, money is being spent on priorities set in Whitehall, not Cardiff; that official-level meetings have involved no sharing of any information about Whitehall’s plans for the pilot shared prosperity fund in Wales; and that Welsh ministers have not had a single ministerial-level meeting on this subject since the government
took office? Is this not yet another London power grab and betrayal of devolution?”
Lord Greenhalgh responded: “We need to recognise the improvements of moving away from EU structural funds. This will allow for quicker delivery of funding, better targeting and better alignment with domestic priorities and will certainly be less bureaucratic and burdensome than the current EU structural funds arrangements.”
Reacting to Lord Greenhalgh’s comments, Mr Miles said: “The Shared Prosperity Fund in Wales should be run in the interests of Wales, not in the interests of the UK Government.
“For three years the Welsh Government, which is responsible for regional funding in Wales, has been working collaboratively with organisations across Wales to co-design plans for replacement EU funds because the UK Government publicly and repeatedly said that leaving the EU would mean no loss of funding or devolved powers.
“In that time, we have developed a new framework for investing these funds working with local government, the business community, universities and colleges and the third sector.
“We’ve also worked with the OECD and put our proposals through a public consultation so that our investments will reach those who most need it, and support jobs and prosperity in a way which is fairer, inclusive and sustainable.
“It is outrageous that the UK Government plans to disregard all of this work. Its actions – as well as being a deliberate attack on Welsh democracy – will fail to give Wales its fair share of investment, fail to reflect the interests of Wales and its regions, and ignores the clear consensus in Wales on how these funds should be spent.
“It’s now time for it to agree to join the range of bodies the Welsh Government has been working in partnership with, and to invest these funds in accordance with the framework which reflects Wales’ needs.”