On Tuesday 8th June, Ruth Jones MP led the debate on The Community Renewal Fund and Levelling Up Fund in Wales, in Westminster Hall.
“This debate today gives this House the opportunity to address the broken promises of Tory Ministers, the empty words of this Prime Minister who has done nothing but let Wales down and most importantly of all, it gives us all a chance to give voice to the thoughts, concerns, needs and wants of the people of Wales.
And in doing so, I readily acknowledge that people across the country will be impacted by the broken promises of Tory Ministers and serves as just another reason why this country is in such desperate of a majority Labour Government.
I know my colleagues on this side of the House agree with me and I suspect that many Tories do too that funding for our communities is vital and much needed but that it is crucial that the said funding is transparent, fair and balanced. Its distribution must not be another example of doing ‘to people’ we must focus on doing ‘with people’. And as things stand, the levelling up fund and the Community Renewal Fund fail on both these counts.
The Levelling up Fund and the Community Renewal Fund pits nations like Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland against the many regions up and down England and it simply isn’t good enough. And is it any surprise that the constituencies with Cabinet Ministers representing them in this House have received funds ahead of other parts of the United Kingdom. That’s what happens when control is left in the hands of Ministers in Whitehall rather than in the hands of local communities up and down the country.
My noble friend, the Noble Baroness Wilcox of Newport, a former leader of Newport City Council and Chair of the Welsh Local Government Association said earlier this year that: “this Government (is) using the money to level up the Conservative Party’s electoral prospects rather than the economic realities of left behind communities”.
The noble Baroness is correct in her analysis and her worry. It is simply unacceptable to sit by and let Ministers here in Westminster get away with this treatment of the people of Wales.
The Welsh Government has no formal role in the process of allocating the Levelling Up funds; the UK Government has said only that it will ‘seek advice’ from devolved governments ‘where appropriate.’ That simply will not do.
The so-called levelling up fund that will see decisions made in Whitehall rather than Wales will be driven by departments with no history of delivering projects in and across Wales, no record of working with communities in Wales, North and South, and no understanding of the priorities of those communities now and into the future.
I would be grateful if the Minister confirm if his Department has undertaken equality impact assessments of the design of the Levelling Up Fund or UK Shared Prosperity Fund? And if so, could he make them available to the House. And if the Department hasn’t, can the Minister explain why not?
The days of one Whitehall size fits all are well and truly over.
That is why the First Minister of Wales, my Right Honourable Friend Mark Drakeford MS was correct to say that the Tory attempt to level up the economy in Wales is simply put: a plan made for Wales – without Wales. And it simply won’t do.
This Conservative government has an appalling record on providing Wales with even a fair share of UK spending, let alone the kind of funding needed to ‘level up’. The Welsh Government’s budget, set by the Treasury, is still lower per head in real terms than it was in 2010.
And despite promising that Wales will not lose out when EU Structural Funds come to an end, these ‘new’ schemes will provide just a fraction of that funding. The Levelling Up Fund will likely represent little more than £50m each year for Welsh projects – compared to the approx. £375m a year for Wales from Structural Funds.
I skimmed the Prime Minister’s document in which he started by describing Wales as a ‘unique member of our awesome foursome’. That description may speak to the Prime Minister’s way of doing things, I prefer to describe Wales as a strong and equal partner in a union of equals. And I know that the people of Newport West do too.
The reason I was able to skim the document is simple – there isn’t much to it. There is little ambition, there is little focus, there is little understanding of the needs of the people of Wales from Newport West to Delyn and from Wrexham to the Pontypridd; and there is little evidence of any respect for Wales’s democratically elected Parliament and Government.
Another way this sorry situation be described is this.
The levelling up fund is not new money. If it wasn’t being funnelled through this fund, it would have been allocated to Wales through the Senedd, the democratically elected Parliament of the people of Wales. And it would have been allocated in accordance with the priorities of the Senedd, decided by the people of Wales.
Rather than respecting democracy, and looking to work with the Welsh Government, Tories in Westminster have decided to trample over our democracy and have bypassed the Senedd completely. And that is probably why at the most recent opportunity the people of Wales had to express their view, they re-elected their Welsh Labour Government for a record sixth term of uninterrupted Government.
This is true to form from Tory Ministers. They ride roughshod over democracy by taking decisions on devolved matters in Wales, and they remove most means of being held accountable by creating a system in which the people of Wales have no say. It is unacceptable and this side of the House will not stand for it.
Welsh Labour believes in a collaborative approach where our local authorities, and I pay tribute to my own Newport City Council for what they do, work in partnership with Welsh Government, as they have done to produce a Framework for Regional Investment. It is very concerning that we will now see a centralised, Whitehall-led, ad hoc approach instead of a strategic, Welsh approach.
It is clear to me and I know many on this side of the House that the way this whole sorry affair has been handled shows that the Tories know they have lost the trust and support of the people of Wales. Chair, if colleagues want to see evidence, I suggest they go and look at the results of the 2021 Senedd elections.
Upon taking office, the Prime Minister made himself the Minister for the Union. Far from unity, every decision he has made and every step he has taken has sowed discord and disunity across our country. And as each day passes, the situation and future of the Union grows ever graver. I say this with no relish but increasing fear and concern.
The strong ties of family, of faith, of support, of solidarity and of togetherness that bind this Union are continuing to fray because of the failure of Tory Ministers to recognise that unions are formed of voluntary, consenting parties that need and deserve respect. And importantly, as I have already indicated, that this Union is made up of four equal and proud partners.
Nobody disagrees with the creation of the means to support and empower our communities. But as is so often the case with this government, it is how it is done. Or not done. These funds could have been a step toward greater, more equal co-operation between Whitehall and the devolved governments in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. Heck, we could have gone even further and taken the ultimate decision making to an even more local level.
The Secretary of State is a decent man, but it is a matter of regret that his decency hasn’t stopped him going along with the Prime Minister’s dismissive approach to the Welsh Government, the Senedd, devolution and the devolution settlement. This sits at the door of the Prime Minister and it is time that he steps up and stops letting Wales down.
Given that this government has delivered a decade of austerity to Wales – with the Welsh core budget for day to day spending still lower per head in real terms than it was in 2010 – it begs the question that why should anyone in Wales trust this government to ‘level up?’
And that is why today’s debate is so important, we need answers from the Minister and we need it now.”