£2billion more from Europe but what will Wales do with it?
It has been announced that Wales is to receive £2 billion in structural funding from Europe over the next six years. On the face of it this sounds like good news, until you start asking why we are getting the money. As BBC Wales' political editor Nick Servini says:
"This is certainly no cause for celebration, the fact that Wales has got this third round of funding. If you go back to the year 2000 and objective one funding, the first minister at the time, Rhodri Morgan, was talking about this as being a 'once in a generation' opportunity.
Yet here we are, 14 or 15 years later and Wales is one of just a handful of places across the EU that is still eligible for this funding because it has not lifted these communities out of the economically deprived categories that they still find themselves in."
The money will be invested in the poorest parts of the country - which includes Rhondda Cynon Taff. This money is to be used by the Welsh government for long-term sustainable economic growth and the creation of jobs. It is given to areas where the value of what is produced is three-quarters or less of the EU average.
It is the third time in a row that we have qualified for this funding and the question has to be why?
Fifteen years of Labour led Government in Wales and what have we to show for it? All this extra money that has come in from Europe and what has been the lasting benefit in RCT and indeed across Wales?
The Genesis project was established in Rhondda Cynon Taff in 2002 with a European funding grant of £2.7 million. It was intended to provide help, advice, guidance and support for people looking to access work, training or learning opportunities, thus lowering unemployment and improving economic activity. A major aspect of this was the provision of childcare. The scheme was subsequently rolled out across Wales.
In February 2013 a BBC report revealed that the scheme across Wales had created fewer than 800 jobs since its inception compared to the target of 20,000 people to find work or get qualifications.). The scheme was subsequently scrapped.
European funding has been used for the "regeneration" works in Pontypridd, Ferndale and Aberdare, and is part funding the renovation of the Pontypridd Lido. Yet what will be the long term benefit of these projects?
An interim report on the Pontypridd scheme published last year stated that
Whilst there has been some movement in property occupiers in Pontypridd, it appears to be very much a case of "shuffling the pack" as operators trade-up or down within the town centre. Many existing occupiers may also appear "transitional" with several discount/closing down sales in evidence in the town centre at present.
Discussion with active local agents highlights their concerns that aesthetic improvements alone "have not / will not" make any difference when (i) there is poor demand (especially for units between 800 sq ft - 2,000 sq ft); (ii) out of town retail affords easier access and greater convenience; and (iii) there are extant Council car park and rates management policies which are detrimental to nurturing footfall and demand. Indeed, one agent described the situation in Pontypridd as 'dire' whereas another one made reference to 'rubbish demand'.
Wales should by now be in a position where it does not qualify for European funding, we should not be at the bottom of the pile when it comes to economic development. It is yet another example of Labour letting Wales down through a lack of vision, ambition and ability to deliver.
Cllr Mike Powell
Welsh Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate, Pontypridd.