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Welsh Councils at Disadvantage When Applying for Levelling Up Funding

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The Institute of Welsh Affairs raises alarms over the UK Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda and argues it will represent a budgetary step down from European funds that risks flouting accountability at both ends of the M4 and putting different parts of the UK in competition for funding.

In a new report published last week, the IWA has raised a number of concerns about ‘Levelling Up’ – a series of programmes to reduce regional inequalities that is a core feature of the current UK Government’s policy programme – and notes that the policy compares unfavourably with the European Structural Investment programmes it replaces.

From discussions with local authority leaders and representatives of both the Welsh and UK Governments, the IWA concludes that it is highly unlikely that Wales will receive the same levels of funding as it did as a member of the European Union, despite the Conservative Party’s promise to the contrary in the 2019 UK General Election.

Wales’ leading independent think tank has also questioned whether the use of ‘Levelling Up’ funding to empower English local government structures such as Metro Mayors, Combined Authorities, new ‘County Deals’ as well as proposed elected Governors could place Welsh and Scottish authorities at a disadvantage, and leave them competing for funding with larger strategic bodies. The IWA argues the Levelling Up Programme’s competitive application process will stretch the resources of our comparatively small Welsh councils that enter it with no certainty of outcome.

In bypassing established Welsh governance structures for the allocation of resources, the Levelling Up agenda will also make scrutiny more challenging both in Cardiff and Westminster. The IWA advocates better collaboration between the devolved and UK Governments to ensure effective structures of accountability are in place on both sides. It also recommends greater roles for the Welsh Government, the Welsh Parliament and existing structures for local authority collaboration, such as City and Growth Deals, to ensure local interests are better represented.