Council leaders express concern over UK Government’s post-EU funding for Wales
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
The leaders of three Welsh councils have raised concerns about the funding which will replace the hundreds of millions of pounds Wales used to receive from the European Union each year.
Swansea Council leader, Cllr Rob Stewart, said Wales received £375 million from Brussels before Brexit but would receive less from two new UK Government pots of cash – the Levelling Up Fund and Community Renewal Fund.
Speaking at a session of Westminster’s Welsh Affairs Committee, Cllr Stewart said: “There is inevitably going to be an element of disappointment.”
He said Wales would receive £30 million to £40 million via the Levelling Up Fund this year, plus a share of £220 million Community Renewal Fund cash.
The Swansea Labour leader said his council was spending more than £30 million to £40 million this year just to upgrade its schools.
He said: “If it’s truly about levelling up and truly about community renewal, then the level of funding has to be sufficient to actually achieve that aim.”
Cllr Stewart also said the short period of time given to authorities to submit projects for funding consideration was “completely constraining”, especially as some of them would have to be delivered by March 31 next year.
He and the two other council leaders also voiced concerns at the session about what they felt was a side-lining of the Welsh Government in the whole process.
They said there had to be a three-way conversation between Westminster, councils and the Welsh Government about post-EU funding.
Cllr Stewart said this tripartite approach was the basis for city deals, like the one for the Swansea Bay City Region.
He said: “This is my major concern here – doing stuff or potentially doing stuff in isolation, we won’t deliver as much as we could have for our communities.”
Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn, the leader of Gwynedd Council, said: “I think leaving out the Welsh Government is a mistake.”
He said he felt the new system was not devolution but a centralisation of power.
Cllr Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said he had been advised that decisions over which projects would receive funding would be made by UK Government officials based in Wales.
The Levelling Up Fund is a UK-wide, £4.8 billion initiative for capital projects spread over four years.
The Community Renewal Fund is revenue money for pilot projects focusing on skills, employment and local business investment. This fund is a precursor to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU funds from next year onwards.
The Conservative Government has said the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will match EU expenditure.
Also appearing at the committee meeting was David TC Davies MP, Under-Secretary of State for Wales and Luke Hall MP, Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government.
Mr Davies said the Welsh Government could be included in the funding discussions, and that the new system was not constrained by the Barnett Formula – the mechanism used by the Treasury to adjust levels of public expenditure in Wales.
Meanwhile, Mr Hall, when asked what levelling up actually meant, said: “Levelling up is about improving living standards and opportunity in some of the communities that have been neglected for far too long by successive Governments right around the United Kingdom.
“The object is to make sure that wherever you were born, wherever you grew up, you have a fair opportunity to succeed in life – you don’t have to leave your hometown just to find a good job and good future for yourself.”