Welsh Liberal Democrat Baroness Christine Humphreys has highlighted the value of EU funding to Wales in a speech on the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords.
Since 2001, the area of West Wales and the Valleys has been in receipt of funding from the EU and everywhere one looks in Wales one finds examples of the benefits arising from this.
From the newly transformed Ponty Lido to the upgraded railway stations in Aberystwyth, Carmarthen, Llandudno and Port Talbot where we see the effects of a £21m cash injection of EU funds, to the National Waterfront Museum on Swansea Marina, to the transformation of Porthcawl’s historic marina, to the regeneration of South Wales Valleys towns which have benefitted from millions of pounds from Europe – all creating employment, breathing life into communities and improving the quality of people’s lives as well.
In my own area I’ve seen EU funding being used to convert an old mill to a teaching centre and an old school to a community and teaching centre and perhaps the project which is closest to my heart, the renovation of Nant Gwrtheyrn, the Welsh language and heritage centre on the Llyn peninsula.
We’ve also seen major road improvements – the stretch of the A465 from Brynmawr to Tredegar, for example, saw £82m of EU funding being poured in to help pay for its construction, helping to improve both safety and connectivity.
These are just a very few examples of the impact of EU Funding on West Wales and the Valleys and all have been achieved with the aid of the main funding streams. It may be useful to remind ourselves of the aim of three of these streams and enquire of the government how they intend replicating them.
- European Structural Funds– have been used to support people into work and training, have supported youth employment, research and innovation projects and business competitiveness in the SME sector and have overseen renewable energy and energy efficiency schemes. These funds are worth £2bn from 2014 – 2020. What will replace them in two years’ time?
- Common Agricultural Policy– is, as those of us who live in Wales know, an essential £200m a year scheme providing payments to more than 16,000 farms in Wales to help protect and enhance the countryside.
- Welsh Government Rural Communities– Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 – is a £957m programme supporting businesses, farmers, the countryside, and communities in rural areas and has been essential to areas like the Conwy Valley where I live.
All of this, My Lords, is in stark contrast to the dire lack of funding which came to Wales from the UK government prior to 2001 and led to West Wales and the Valleys being classed as one of the poorest areas in the EU and therefore eligible for Objective 1 funding. I’m sure that Noble Lords will understand my scepticism about future funding commitments if and when we leave the EU.
In fact, the UK government’s record on funding to Wales hardly fills one with confidence. It has been proved beyond doubt that the Barnett formula by which Wales has received its funding for the NHS, education and so on, has been disadvantageous to Wales – and yet no government of any colour has been prepared to address the issues and ensure fair funding on a permanent basis.
My Noble Friend, Lord Thomas of Gresford has already, in earlier debates on this Bill, drawn the House’s attention to the disparity in funding under the Barnett formula and voiced the fears he has that future funding to Wales will perpetuate this situation. As he has so clearly pointed out, the weakness of the Barnett formula in relation to Wales is that it is based on a crude population count whereas EU funding has been based on need.
My Lords, it certainly is time for Ministers to be crystal clear about the amount of funding which will come to Wales – remembering, of course, that we were promised ‘not a penny less’ during the referendum campaign – and we need to know the basis on which the funding will be determined and the methods which will be used to distribute that funding.