Jonathan Edwards - Herald Column

What will happen to Carmarthenshire's European cash?

Over the years Carmarthenshire has benefited enormously from EU structural funding. The West Wales and the Valleys 'region' has qualified for the highest form of EU regional aid for the last twenty years, covering three multi annual financial frameworks. Over £5bn has been allocated to Wales over that period - £1.9bn for the last spending round alone and our allocation for the next multi annual financial framework would have been greater (2021-27).

The reason for this huge European cash injection directly into Carmarthenshire is twofold. Firstly, Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price in a previous life as an economist successfully advanced the case that instead of splitting Wales into two north/south regions for the purposes of working out average geographical wealth, it would make more sense to split Wales on a West/East basis. Under previous policy the more prosperous East of our country meant that no part of Wales qualified for the highest level of support.

Secondly, the British state is the most unequal member of the EU. Nine of the poorest regions in northern Europe are in the UK as well as its richest by a mile – inner London. The British State currently has no policy aimed at tackling these disgraceful geographic inequalities. In fact, the policies of successive Labour and Tory Westminster administrations have been deliberately designed to overheat the South East of England at the expense of everyone else.

With the end of EU Structural Funds, the British Government have realised they faced a potential sticky wicket and boldly announced a new Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) for the post Brexit era. However, things aren't quite what they seem, and this means very bad news for Carmarthenshire.

Since the Referendum the British Government has been very reluctant to release any detail on how the SPF three key issues concern us in Carmarthenshire. Firstly, what will be the size of the complete pot? Secondly, where will it be allocated? And lastly, who will have policy control over the implementation of the new fund in Wales?

On the first issue, despite wishy washy promises, the best the British Government have been able to come up with to date is that substantial funds will be made available. The problem with substantial is that it is unspecific and doesn't match the 'not a penny less' promises made at the time of the referendum. Research indicates that the poorest communities in the British State will lose out by at least a £1bn.

Secondly, EU funds were strictly distributed on a geographic basis. The British Government's replacement fund will not. Previously, Carmarthenshire would have been in a priority area for investment – from now on we will have to compete for investment. One campaign group has equated the likely reverse redistribution as every single person in our county losing over £700 a year and giving every Londoner gaining an extra £200.

Thirdly, expect a major fight over who has control over policy in Wales. Economic development is clearly a devolved issue but it seems quite apparent that the British Government will by-pass devolution. This will be nothing short of a constitutional outrage and a significant power grab from Wales.

My message to Westminster is quite clear – hands off our cash and powers.


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