No person or community in Wales ought to live with the indignity of poverty
Arfon MP Hywel Williams writes: "Plaid Cymru is calling for Wales’ European funding to be doubled in order to jumpstart our economy and provide a much-needed boost to working people’s income".
Whether you voted Leave or Remain, we can all agree that no one voted to make themselves, or Wales, poorer. Vote Leave promised that Wales would not receive a penny less. In fact, they even went so far as to pledge that there would be a ‘Brexit dividend.’
If indeed Brexit does go ahead, Plaid Cymru stands ready and determined to ensure these promises are upheld. That’s why yesterday in the parliamentary debate on the future of economic development funding in Wales, I set out our preferred model for the future. A model which we envisage as a first step towards reducing regional inequalities between and within the UK nations.
Wales currently receives £245 million more a year from the EU than it pays in, happily highlighting both the benefit to our economy of EU membership and the sad reality of chronic underfunding by successive British Governments. These EU Structural Funds are based upon the principle that the least productive nations qualify for the strongest economic injections. The EU – in effect – are doing the British Government’s job for it.
Now, though, these funds are under threat from the twin-pincers of Brexit and this feckless Tory British Government. The latter of which has promised to replace EU Structural Funds with a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund – a bargain basement imitation of what we already have. All the while Mrs May’s Government has steadfastly refused to promise that Wales will not be left materially worse off (spoiler alert: we will).
The starkest economic inequality within any one EU Member State is between London and Wales – inner London’s GDP is 614% of the EU average, while West Wales and the Valleys’ is just 68% of the same EU average. Leaving the EU will only deepen this divide.
That’s why we need Welsh solutions for Welsh problems and we need them fast. So, before we even get on to the detail, we must first ensure Wales’s portion of any new Shared Prosperity Fund must be managed at a devolved level, from Cardiff Bay. If there’s one thing we’ve learned these past few years, it is that Westminster does not know best, particularly not for Wales.
Economic development is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly and EU funding in Wales is already delivered via the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO). Maintaining this devolved system of decision making is the only way any replacement fund can respect our constitutional settlement.
Funds should be pre-allocated rather than doled out using a competitive bidding process, to ensure Wales is not pitted against the other nations to battle it out for scraps from the table. As the trade unionist Jimmy Reid once said “A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats, we’re human beings.” Competitive bidding processes reward the flashiest projects – garden bridges and space rockets – over the truly transformative, community-based projects.
With this in mind, funding must continue to be multi-annual to allow for secure, long-term planning of sizable, substantive projects. To make real progress in creating high-skilled, high-paying jobs in Wales we will need infrastructure investments that might take seven years or more to deliver.
Plaid Cymru believes that programme funding within Wales should continue to meet the goals of European Structural Funds, including streams relating to employability and economic development. Expenditure should also co-operate with Welsh Government policy and expenditure, while meeting legislation regarding sustainability, like the Wellbeing of Future Generations Wales Act.
In the event that Brexit can be stopped – and I continue to remain hopeful – we have called for a £5 billion transformational fund from Europe to abolish poverty and spread prosperity.
The poverty in our communities is a scandal, and both unionist Westminster parties have stood by and let it grow unchallenged.
Plaid Cymru is calling for Wales’ European funding to be doubled in order to jumpstart our economy and provide a much-needed boost to working people’s income. Wales needs a Transformation Fund so that every household in every community across our nation can reap the benefits.
Wales cannot continue on the same path. We are working to make Wales matter, be that through a UK Shared Prosperity Fund that genuinely seeks to make Wales thrive, or through a Transformation Fund from the EU.
No person nor community in Wales ought to live with the indignity of poverty. The solutions are there – it is up to us to choose them.
Hywel Williams is the Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon. He is the party's spokesperson on Brexit, International Trade & for the Cabinet Office.
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