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Levelling Up Fund gives Secretary of State role of ‘feudal overlord’ over Wales claim Plaid

04 Mar 2021 4 minutes Read
Simon Hart (left) by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

The new levelling up fund gives the Wesh Secretary Simon Hart the role of “feudal overlord” over Wales, according to Plaid Cymru.

The party’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, criticised the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund, saying that it “completely bypasses Wales’ democratic structures”.

Instead, it gives the Secretary of State for Wales the role of a “feudal overlord”, from whom MPs are expected to seek “political patronage,” she said.

Powers over economic development are devolved to Wales – but the Senedd is completely bypassed by the new fund.

The Fund’s prospectus, released yesterday as part of the Chancellor’s Budget, states that “the Scottish and Welsh Territorial Offices will be consulted in the assessment of relevant bids”, and that the Government expects MPs “as democratically-elected representatives of the area, to back one bid that they see as a priority”.

Liz Saville Roberts said that this way of allocating funds is unfair as Wales is set to lose one-fifth of its representation in Westminster in the next boundary review.

“The Levelling Up Fund completely bypasses Wales’ democratic structures – instead giving the Secretary of State the role of a feudal overlord, from whom MPs are expected seek political patronage. Meanwhile, the Tories are cutting Wales’ MPs by a fifth. This is the most brazen attack yet on Wales and our democracy.

“What is worse – the Chancellor includes his own constituency in the highest category of need, while Gwynedd is in the lowest. Under previous EU funding criteria, Gwynedd was prioritised due to being of the least developed areas of Europe, along with the rest of West Wales and the Valleys.

“Our public money is being snatched for the Budget of Tory bungs. This is not ‘levelling up’ but a stitch up.

‘Fraction’

The Welsh Government have previously said that the fund was not delivering new money to Wales but rather taking money that would previously have been spent by the Senedd.

That meant that people with less understanding of Wales would be making decisions about where to spend the money instead.

They also noted that Wales’ share of the new money was around £50 million a year – far less than the country received from the EU – and there was no guarantee it would come to Wales.

Rebecca Evans MS, Minister for Finance and Trefnydd said that the UK Government’s “aggressive approach” to replacing EU Structural Funds with the Shared Prosperity Fund was “completely unacceptable”.

“It is forcibly taking decisions on devolved matters without being answerable to the Senedd on behalf of the people of Wales,” she said.

“It has not engaged with us on its prospectuses published only three weeks until these funds begin, and undermines years of work we have undertaken with stakeholders to develop new regional investment arrangements.

“Clearly, the people of Wales will also only benefit from a fraction of the funding Wales would have had from EU funding, demonstrating again the UK Government’s failure to invest adequately in Wales.”

‘Difficult year’

Janet Finch-Saunders MS – the Member of the Welsh Parliament for Aberconwy – has welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget statement, which provided an extra £740 million of funding to the Welsh Government.

She urged the devolved administration to work to extend business support for firms across Wales and confirm a national reopening framework.

Echoing calls made by businesses during her virtual forums, Janet said: “After the most difficult year in the history of peacetime Britain, the budget extends the support for Wales to save jobs, invests in industry and business. The UK Conservative Government is delivering on its promise to protect livelihoods – now, Welsh Ministers must action further funding support.

“The extension to the 5% reduced rate in VAT for tourism and hospitality businesses until September, as well as a continued freeze on alcohol and fuel duties, is a fantastic package of support which I know many local residents will welcome. We now need confirmation of how the Welsh Government will use the further £740 million it is set to receive.

“As has been highlighted in my hospitality business forums over the past month, Welsh hospitality and tourism firms need to work within a national reopening framework so that they can begin the process of hiring employees, of buying in local produce and making safe their premises.

“With this framework in place in England, the Chancellor was able to use yesterday’s Budget statement to set a path for recovery, including the announcement of Restart Grants. As I continue to make plain in the Senedd, my local businesses now want to see this sensible approach replicated.”

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