Opinion

The EU invested billions in Wales – will Westminster match that after Brexit?

05 Feb 2020 4 minutes Read
Dafydd Wigley. Picture by Plaid Cymru.

Lord Dafydd Wigley

For the past four decades, Westminster has made an art out of deflecting broken promises, funding gaps and all manner of woes as the fault of Brussels.  Today in a debate I will lead in the House of Lords, I will have the opportunity to challenge the UK Government on its progress replacing EU Structural Funds and their promise that Wales would not be a penny worse for leaving the EU.

Wales’ poverty is a shocking indicator of how little Westminster works or cares for Wales. There is a 546% difference between the comparative wealth of Inner London and West Wales and the Valleys, making the UK the most regionally unequal country in Europe.

In Wales the EU worked hard with the devolved institutions to overcome decades of political and economic neglect by Westminster. By law the EU committed to addressing regional imbalances where income per head was less than 75% of the EU average. As a result, it invested £2 billion in West Wales and the Valleys alone between 2014 and 2020. Recognising the scale of the challenge in Wales, it planned to invest a further £2.5 billion between 2021 and 2027.

Underpinning this investment was the principle of “additionality”. This meant that any funding from the EU could not replace existing public funding but must be additional to it.  Even when this issue first raised its head decades ago, it took the intervention of Michel Barnier – then the Regional Commissioner – to ensure the UK Government transferred European funds in full to Wales.

It was this principle of ‘additionality’ which largely explains why Wales became a net beneficiary of EU funding over the years and why European funding featured so heavily in the Referendum debate on Britain’s membership of the EU.  In that debate and since, Welsh voters were repeatedly assured that Wales would not lose a penny if we left the EU.

Now that we have left the EU, it is only reasonable that Westminster delivers on its promises to Wales and delivers a comparable needs-based replacement to EU Structural Funds.

This should take the form of a Regional Development Fund for Wales. This should be administered separately to the Welsh Government’s core funding and deliver long-term investments into areas based on need, rather than population, to avoid the blatant flaws of the current funding formula. It would retain the objectives of European Structural Reforms, including an emphasis on improving employability and regional economic development.

 

Poverty

For any fund there obviously needs to be funding. The UK was allocated over ten billion Euros in European Structural and Investment Funds between 2014 and 2020, with Wales allocated just over £2 billion or £140 per person. As the Withdrawal Agreement only guarantees funding until the end of this year, a new arrangement is urgently needed.

Plaid Cymru and I argue that not only should this guarantee £2.5 billion for Wales on a pre-allocated basis over the period 2021-2027 but that it should be administered and delivered in Wales.  This would honour Westminster’s pledge to match EU funding and not make a grab for Welsh powers.  Equally it would ensure that Wales’ voice is heard, its rights respected and investment strategically targeted using local input to build a better future for Wales.

It is vital that we get the successor to EU Structural Funds in Wales right, and do so now, well ahead of the end of the transition period.  With discussions and preparations around our future economic relationship with the EU likely to increasingly dominate the agenda, the UK Government should take this window before trade negotiations begin properly to lay the foundations for Wales’ post-Brexit funding future.

For too long Westminster has marginalised Wales in terms of investment and economic opportunity, condemning generations to a life in which poverty is the norm, not the exception. With a third of Welsh children living in poverty, post-Brexit Britain must urgently prove its worth and invest in Wales to deliver real economic opportunity and action.

Wales’ institutions have been confirmed by two separate referenda and have extensive experience in regional investment. Having delivered his Brexit on the back of a promise to Wales, Johnson must work with and not against its institutions, match EU funding in Wales and invest in the forgotten margins of the UK.

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Anne Wareham
1 year ago

Money is all very well, but was it spent the way local people wanted? And will it be in the future – or more grand roads to nowhere?

Jonesy
Jonesy
1 year ago
Reply to  Anne Wareham

much money was spent on infrastructure but not enough. a lot of money has been misspent not by Europe but by local government, central government and third sector projects which were totally unsustainable and of no value to the people of Wales. What was required was stricter rules and directives to avoid wastage and pie in the sky projects

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonesy

Your observation is very relevant. Politicians and a whole raft of opportunists saw EU cash as a pot to be dipped into with little or no regard to the real needs of communities. Hence the reaction in June 2016 when likes of valleys communities saw a chance to give these hogs a good kicking. The arrogance of “top down, we know best ” leadership thinking combined with an elastic interpretation of rules won the day.

John Ellis
John Ellis
1 year ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

Agree. I’m living in the north-east now – in beautiful Dyffryn Clwyd – but back in the ’70s and ’80s I was down in the south-east and got to know Ebbw Vale pretty well. So I was curious when Blaenau Gwent, having proved to be one of the most Brexity parts of the country, attracted quite a lot of journalistic curiosity and coverage in consequence. The first thing that struck me was how much Ebbw Vale had been modernized and poshed up, when compared to my 1970s memories of it. And the second thing, as I pondered the vox pops,… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 year ago

Think we can say categorically and with 100 percent certainty that westminster wont match the billions the eu has invested in wales after brexit ☹️

O.R
O.R
1 year ago

There will be crumbs thrown Wales’ way and these crumbs will be hailed and promoted as ‘major investment’ in order to dupe the Welsh public that Johnson is keeping his promises. My great hope is that we don’t fall for it and that Westminster will finally be seen for what it is and always has been – an English government geared towards and concerned only with England (and the south east especially)

Ji Richardson
Ji Richardson
1 year ago

When did Dafydd Wigley say this ?

j humphrys
j humphrys
1 year ago

Just pay Cymru what is owed.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 year ago

Fat chance of that happening, to be blunt. Our attention should now be to build up the case for independence throughout the country. To speak of the benefits and avoid bringing down the Westminster government. We won’t need to – the poverty of Brexit will automatically do that for us. Unlike Brexit we need to build a road map showing how prosperity can be achieved by our own efforts. A step by step guide as to how we will achieve prosperity. At the moment there is mainly nothing but negativeness. Winning the hearts and minds of the people of Wales… Read more »

Gwil
Gwil
1 year ago

OK, so let’s have a look at what Lord Wigley has said here. To use an analogy, the EU has been the bank and Welsh Government the investor who has used the funding to increase the turnover and profitability (GDP) of the business (Wales). Welsh Government submitted a business plan (Operational Programme) to the bank stating how it was going to spend the available funding to achieve its objectives (growth). The simple fact of the matter is that the investor has failed. It failed to deliver the business plan and for 20 years, it has not made a profit. We… Read more »

Dafyd
Dafyd
1 year ago

£2bn over 6 years is chump change quite frankly. London is spending 100 times that building a new shiny railway for itself.

Anthony Mitchell
Anthony Mitchell
1 year ago
Reply to  Dafyd

Hahaha

Anthony Mitchell
Anthony Mitchell
1 year ago

Well, the answer is no of course we’re not ? in fact I will be shocked if we do, we don’t want to bow down to the EU? Then why bow down to the UK? If we’re going to live through poverty let us at least be poor on our own accord and not administered by our slave masters. Now we have our fapping Brexit out of the way we can talk about the austerity that’s been inflicting peoples lives again before we were distracted by the Brexit fiasco.

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