Around one in ten people in Wales benefited from more than £2 billion in EU funding for jobs, training and businesses over the last six years, new figures reveal as Brexit takes full effect at midnight.
An updated Welsh Government impact assessment of the £375 million-a-year in EU structural funds spent in Wales shows they have assisted 264,317 people since 2014.
The funds targeted at the poorest parts of Wales led to the creation of 19,508 jobs and 3,562 new businesses.
A further 26,765 people were supported into employment, while 12,234 existing businesses received help and another 112,865 people gained qualifications as a result of EU funded programmes.
The UK Government has promised to replace EU schemes with a ‘shared prosperity fund’ but have given no details of how much Wales will receive and have been accused of an “assault on devolution” for moving to seize control from the Welsh Government of how the money is spent.
The loss of EU structural funds was highlighted as a major downside of Brexit by Plaid Cymru during yesterday’s emergency Senedd debate on the trade deal which takes effect tomorrow.
Shadow economy minister Helen Mary Jones said: “We were promised that Wales would not lose a penny – now, let me provide you with a reminder of what we have lost.
“In recent years, in one town alone, Llanelli, European structural funds provided £1.5 million for Ffwrnes theatre, which has become a community as well as a cultural hub; £2.5 million for Llanelly House, providing one of our most unusual historical buildings with a future and sound economic prospects; and £2.8 million to redevelop our town centre.
“It is clear now that the UK’s so-called shared prosperity fund will in no way replace these kind of investments, and instead will be used as a kind of implement to try and enforce UK policies on the Welsh Government—a promise broken.”
Wales received five times more in EU funds per person than England because west Wales and the Valleys is one of two areas of the UK where GDP is less than 75% of the EU average.
Regions which fall into this category receive around half of all EU structural funds for growth and jobs.
Taking into account the previous funding period of 2007 to 2014, the number of jobs created with EU cash rises to 53,000 and the number of businesses created rises to 14,560.
“The [economic] statistics for Wales would have been a lot worse in the absence of European funding,” professor Steve Fothergill of Sheffield University told the UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee earlier this year.
Despite having a Conservative majority, the committee recently published a report criticising the UK Government for making “minimal” progress on delivering its promised ‘shared prosperity fund”.
“With only a few months to go until the Fund is due to be introduced, we still require certainty about the total size of the fund, how it will be distributed, and whether Wales will secure at least as much as it currently receives under EU structural funds,” said its chair, Conservative MP Stephen Crabb.
“We also note the lack of information about what role, if any, the devolved administrations can expect to play in the Fund’s operation.”