Post-Brexit funding could make Wales poorer – and widen inequality within this breaking union
Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for the South Wales East region
One of the failures of the 2016 referendum campaign was that it failed to tell the people of Wales how they benefitted from membership[ of the EU. Now, we know similarly little about how those benefits will be replicated if and when we leave.
The EU currently gives Wales a higher portion of structural funds per head than the rest of the UK. These funds are designed to support the poorest communities in the European Union, and they’re administered based on need – a mechanism which Westminster has stubbornly refused to use in any funding settlement it creates.
Instead, Westminster favours per head population as the only measure of distributing wealth, which does nothing to tackle the injustices of poverty and social exclusion.
At the moment, we in Wales receive six times the amount of EU funding per capita than England. That translates as £230 per head on average in Wales, compared with £85 per head in England. But very little is known about how the government plans to replace these EU structural funding worth £2.1 billion a year after Brexit.
We shouldn’t be losing that money. In fact, we were promised that we wouldn’t lose it.
A week or so before the referendum, a group of Leave campaigners signed a letter saying that any money Wales currently gets from Brussels would be maintained by the UK Government after we left the EU. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab were among the people signing the letter.
And, a year later, the Conservative party announced it would create a United Kingdom “shared prosperity fund” in order to plug that funding gap. Details were promised “before the end of 2018”.
We’re now in June 2019 and, unsurprisingly, we still don’t have any guarantees about this funding for Wales post-Brexit. There’s been no consultation. No plan. No detail. No proposals.
The UK Government has made clear how far down its list of priorities we in Wales are. Leave campaigners were quick to say that Wales would be better off out of the European Union. But the evidence now is clear. Westminster has no plan to replicate funding for our poorest communities based on need.
Figures published this week by the Communities in Charge organisation tell us that if Westminster were to follow its traditional measures of allocation post-Brexit, Wales could lose over £2.3 billion over six years.
It’s bitterly ironic that, given the purpose of the original EU structural funds was to decrease inequality, its British counterpart will actually make it much worse.
The way in which funds will be allocated post-Brexit to help our communities will have an indelible impact on people’s lives. And, as is too often the case, it will be the people who need the help most who will bear the brunt of whatever shocks our economy is subjected to.
The current structural funds have supported numerous projects in Wales, such as STEMCymru 2, which supports young people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects to encourage more young women to pursue engineering.
Another project, the Agri-Academy Junior Programme, inspires those aged 16 to 19 to consider a career in the food and farming industry with participants provided with media training, mentoring, networking opportunities and help with personal development.
There are many other projects that help people at vulnerable stages of life with training and support. They’re a vital resource. And now they’re under threat.
Prosperity is not only about finances, but it’s also about ensuring well-being and addressing structural differences that underpin the inequity of inequality in our society.
Westminster has promised Wales will receive “not a penny less” in funding after Brexit. We in Plaid Cymru intend to hold them to this promise.
And we’re working to ensure they stick to it. Earlier this year, my Plaid Cymru colleagues Rhun ap Iorwerth AM and Ben Lake MP published the report, ‘Not a Penny Less’.
We demanded that whatever funding system plugs the gap left by structural funds should be administered in Wales, and that we should be guaranteed to receive the same amount of funding. After all, that is what we were promised.
We can’t accept the loss of a penny if we leave the European Union. We need assurance that funding will be prioritised ahead of time, not through competitive bids. It has to be a multi-year scheme. It has to reflect the current situation where funding is allocated according to places that need it most, and not by population density.
We have a duty to protect our communities against poverty and deprivation that’s being served upon them at the hands of the unchallenged Westminster parties.
We have a duty to offer an alternative, so that Wales can build a path towards prosperity and equality, and where we can decide our own future, our own funding, and our own priorities.
“Not a penny less” is what we were promised. We’ll make sure they stay true to their word.