Robert Lloyd Griffiths
Wales faces a number of deep-seated economic challenges.
A legacy of industrial decline together with an average GDP per head below 75% of the EU average in West Wales and the Valleys has led to Wales qualifying for European Structural and Investment (ESI) funding since 1989.
The funding, provided by the European Union but administered by the Welsh Government since 1999, was designed to reduce economic disparities in the EU’s regions by supporting businesses, infrastructure, employment and skills. In Wales, it has equated to around £375 million a year; approximately four times the UK average per person.
A new UK Shared Prosperity Fund will replace the EU Structural Funds as they now start to taper off. We’re told that the fund will be simpler to access and targeted at those who need it most to ensure that it works for all. This should mean that we won’t just be tackling inequality between communities through investments in infrastructure and business but that we will also have the necessary funding to empower individuals to give them the skills they need to succeed.
Yet, with the transition phase of Brexit ending in just over one month, we still don’t have the full detail on the new Shared Prosperity Fund. We don’t how much Wales will receive under the new arrangements, how it will be administered and to whom it will be targeted. But what we do know is that the importance of shared prosperity and the levelling up agenda should not and cannot be underestimated. For the last three years, we’ve talked about how we need EU funding to support economic development, infrastructure investment and private sector leverage. What we now need is to work together to ensure we have a process that identifies and meets local needs; working collaboratively with UK, Welsh and local Government to do what is right for local people, local communities and our economy at large.
EU funding has helped us to build up a great business support network and develop real competitive edge in certain sectors. We should also remember that we might be a micro business economy but we have to protect the big businesses that have chosen Wales as their home and will continue to invest here in future. It is this ecosystem that will enable us to grow and prosper. Wales must not be disadvantaged. From investment in roads and infrastructure to the delivery of projects that tackle equality, we need to continue with the good work that has been done with the help of EU funding.
The post Covid economic landscape of Wales dictates that we will need help to recover. Our members don’t mind where the funding comes from, they just want UK and Welsh Governments to work together to do the right thing and support our local communities and our economy at large so that Wales is not disadvantaged. This is what will help us to bounce back effectively. As we look forward to a new chapter, Covid has taught us all that we can work together and that we can help each other. The future health and wealth of our country will require fairness, transparency and a UK wide commitment to shared prosperity. Just as the name of the fund suggests.