Leader still doesn’t know why Gwynedd judged as low priority area by Westminster levelling up fund
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Gwynedd Council’s leader remains in the dark as to why the county was judged to be among the lowest priority areas when applying for a share of the UK Government’s new £4.8bn “levelling up” fund.
Addressing a session of Westminster’s Welsh Affairs Committee, Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn said it was “not very clear” how the criteria was implemented, while also criticising an apparent shutting out of the Welsh Government from the process.
The UK Government’s £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund has been designed to finance infrastructure projects in deprived areas across Wales, Scotland and England.
But fears were raised in March after it was revealed that Gwynedd had been placed in the lowest priority need category, with Anglesey in the second, leading to claims that north west Wales could end up at the back of the queue with 17 Welsh authorities in the top category.
Gwynedd and Anglesey are included among priority areas in Wales for a separate Community Renewal Fund, competing for a £220m pot designed to partially replace the previous EU aid programme.
But presenting evidence to the Westminster committee on Thursday, Cllr Siencyn said that while the six northern authorities had been working together on economic development, the new fund “seems to go in an opposite direction to that.”
“The element of competitiveness is not to be welcomed really and tends to go against existing arrangements,” he added.
“As far as dialogue with us is concerned I am not aware of any in terms of how the fund is operated.
“I really do think that whatever funding in the future comes from Westminster to Wales, which is welcomed of course, we need a three way conversation between Westminster, Welsh Government and local authorities.
“Otherwise we’re working against each other but we need forward planning and a clear direction.
“At the moment we’re not very clear of the criteria of how the funds have been prioritised, in Gwynedd we’re in the third category for some reason or other.
“We’ve tried to analyse why that is the case but it seems to us that its certainly not levelling up and there’s a lack of clarity and we need to understand how they are prioritised.”
With local authorities directly applying to the UK Government, Cllr Siencyn also raised concerns over the tight timeframe of June 18 to state their case for a slice of the cash with Wales expected to receive a £30m to £50m share.
On the need to find “shovel ready” projects, he went on to say: “The timescales are extremely constraining, we’re scrambling to find projects that would fit into the spending envelope.
“We’ve found some that will be submitted, but in normal circumstances would need more time to develop projects of greater priority to us than the ones which will be submitted on this occasion.
“I welcome any funding but we do need a coordinated approach and Welsh Government obviously has a very important role to play in economic development in Wales.
“I think leaving them out is a mistake, devolution means making decisions at the appropriate level of government, these decisions are made by London so is not devolution but centralisation.”
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”.
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