Anglesey and Gwynedd placed at ‘the back of the queue’ for new UK infrastructure fund
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Fears have been raised that north west Wales could lose out on millions of pounds of infrastructure funding after being judged not to be priority areas when applying for a share of the £4.8bn pot.
The UK Government’s new Levelling Up Fund has been designed to finance infrastructure projects in deprived areas across Wales, Scotland and England.
But, after Gwynedd was placed in the lowest priority need category, with Anglesey in the second, it’s feared that north west Wales could now end up at the back of the queue.
This is despite workers in swathes of Gwynedd being paid some of the lowest wages in the country and Anglesey having one of the lowest GVAs, which measures the increase in the value of the economy.
While UK ministers insist that all local authorities could apply, with cash going to the most in need, the move was described by Liz Saville Roberts MP as “not a levelling up but a stitch up”.
The leaders of both authorities have now called for clarity as to why neither were judged eligible for top tier priority, leaving 17 Welsh authorities, including Cardiff, in a stronger position to apply.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said the fund was “intended to support investment in places where it can make the biggest difference to everyday life, including ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities”.
Ynys Mon MP Virginia Crosbie said this particular fund was only one of many mechanisms to promote investment, referring to the Chancellor’s decision this week to allocate £4.8m to develop a Hydrogen Hub in Holyhead to support high-tech green energy investment and jobs.
She added: “I will be applying for the Levelling Up Fund whatever the priority category.”
But the island’s council leader was adamant they matched all of the criteria, pointing to the need for an economic boost in the wake of Wylfa Newydd failing to take off and the presence of the UK’s second busiest roll-on roll-off port at Holyhead.
Cllr Llinos Medi added: “While £125,000 will be made available for every authority to prepare such bids, this is on a one-off basis and leaves many question marks.
“To be honest its very disappointing and while of course we welcome the funding for the Hydrogen Hub, we shouldn’t be satisfied with crumbs off the table either.
“It doesn’t seem like a levelling up fund at all when we’re starting the whole process on the back foot.”
‘Slap in the face’
Both Gwynedd and Anglesey are included among priority areas in Wales for a separate Community Renewal Fund, competing for a £220m pot in the next financial year and partially replacing the previous EU aid programme.
But Sian Gwenllian, the MS for Arfon, slammed the UK Government’s “neglect”.
“People have legitimate concerns that the north west of Wales, a region already facing substantial underinvestment, will miss out on funding it desperately needs.
“There are crucial questions that need to be asked about the so-called ‘Levelling Up Fund’, chiefly which areas really benefit from it, and is there a political subtext to the Chancellor’s decisions?”
Ynys Mon MS, Rhun ap Iorwerth, added: “After suffering decades of underinvestment and a lack of strategic leadership from both UK and Welsh Government, it’s frankly a slap in the face to be told that Ynys Môn is no longer a priority.
“We need urgent answers about what metrics were used for design of these bizarre categories.”
Gwynedd Council leader, Dyfrig Siencyn, said: “It shows how far from the people of Gwynedd Westminster is – they neither understand, nor care for Gwynedd’s needs.
“We will be expected to be grateful for the crumbs that they throw at us, whilst we continue to suffer from the lowest household income within the British Isles.
“If ever there was a case to free ourselves entirely from Westminster’s interference, with their obsession for an outdated ‘British’ state, then here it is.
“We can do better than this.”
According to the UK Treasury, areas were placed into categories based on the need for economic recovery and growth, improved transport connectivity, and regeneration.
A spokesman added that while preference would be given to bids from higher priority areas, bids from categories 2/3 could still be successful if they were of “exceptionally high quality.