‘It makes me despair’: Concern about the loss of EU funding on Merthyr Tydfil
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Concerns have been raised by councillors about the impact that losing European funding will have on the town of Merthyr Tydfil.
The post-industrial town voted 56.4% for leaving the EU in the 2016 vote, but one councillor said that he didn’t know how they would replace the money and it made him “despair”.
A report discussed by the council’s regeneration, public protection and housing committee anticipated that the implications for Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council will be “significant.”
It said that since the UK joined the EU in 1975 the council has secured “significant amounts” of EU funding to enable delivery of projects which aim to support the regeneration of the county borough’s infrastructure.
The money had supported both physical regeneration programmes and projects and programmes which helped the people of Merthyr Tydfil develop their skills, knowledge and abilities to actively engage in the local economy.
Alyn Owen, the deputy chief executive of the council, said: “The local authority has benefited hugely from the structural funds associated with the allocation from the European Union.”
Councillor Malcolm Colbran said: “Merthyr Tydfil as much as anywhere in the country has benefited from this European money.
“It’s made a massive difference to the town centre, to the villages and to the whole of the borough so how we’re going to replace this money I don’t know. It makes me despair.”
Councillor Scott Thomas said he wanted to show his gratitude and appreciation for projects that had resulted in significant qualifications and jobs.
Councillor Lee Davies said: “Losing these will be a massive loss to Merthyr. Fingers crossed something will come up soon.”
With higher levels of economic deprivation, the majority of areas across Wales have secured a significant amount of EU funding, the report said.
This was because Wales was one of the socially disadvantaged countries in Europe and many organisations have relied on EU funds in recent years for training programmes, skills programmes and large-scale infrastructure projects.
Over the last 20 years, the projects that the council has led on that have received EU funding include Merthyr Tydfil Business Centre (Lifelong Learning Centre), Merthyr Tydfil Town Centre Regeneration Project, Penydarren Tram-road Walking and Cycling Project, Neighbourhood Learning Centre, Merthyr Tydfil Valleys Information & Technology Centre and many more.
It has also supported but not led on projects such as North Merthyr Regeneration Partnership, Sustainable Management for Gelligaer & Merthyr Tydfil Commons, Gurnos and Galon Uchaf Community & Physical Regeneration Programme and enhanced employability training among others.
Projects led by Welsh Government which had a significant impact on Merthyr Tydfil include the Communities First programme, Jobs Growth Wales, the Taff Bargoed Regeneration Programme, the Valleys Regional Park, Communities for Work and the dualling of the A465 as well as others.
The loss of all EU funded programmes will “have a huge impact on Merthyr Tydfil and our local communities” the report said with several programmes live at the moment.
If they end fully when the funding ends then the negative impacts could include 72 experienced support staff being made redundant and a redundancy bill amounting to around £291,000.00 with EU funding not picking up the full cost of this and the council picking up around 70% of the bill.
The Neighbourhood Learning Centre (NLC) which currently houses various vocational training resources on carpentry, plumbing, plastering and ICT among other things would not run due to staffing issues.
Other negative impacts mentioned are no community based delivery for up skilling, no community based employability mentoring and support and no ability to positively contribute to driving down unemployment, the report said.
There is also the risk of the council potentially losing its EU funded staff.
The report added that at the moment there is a distinct sense of uncertainty surrounding the future direction and priorities post EU funding in the UK and Wales in particular,
There is uncertainty regarding how UK Government will administer replacement funding and whether Welsh Government, as a devolved government, will be given finance to assist its own councils.
The council is yet to hear back from UK Government on the Community Renewal Fund bid for a possible £3m to help in the development of projects across the county borough and it is also yet to hear back about a regional employability project plan.
Deputy chief executive Alyn Owen said the only way forward is to be certain of what a new model looks like for Merthyr Tydfil.
He said: “If we concentrate on that rather than think woe is me with the loss of this money then that’ll be effort well spent.”
Council officer Chris Long said: “We really are faced with some dilemma here. Not just from a Merthyr perspective but a national one.”
He said they are still yet to understand what programmes under the Shared Prosperity Fund are going to look like and although they’ve had glimpses they are not to the scale of what is being delivered now.
He said: “We have become reliant on it and it’s going to be a colossal effort to get a programme in place to mirror the programmes that are currently being offered.”
He said the new economic recovery plan which is being developed is predicated on inward investment and jobs for local people.