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European funding needs rethink

January 26, 2013 1:25 AM

Deputy Minister for European Programmes Alun Davies this week expressed his concern that Wales could miss out under proposed cuts and changes to the way funds are distributed through structural funds and the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap).

Wales Online reports that

"Under the current round of funding, which is due to end later this year, Wales received £1.8bn of funding, which the government says generated £3.8bn of investment in the Welsh economy.

Pan-European talks on the Budget in November raised the possibility of poorer regions - of which West Wales and the Valleys are included - seeing a cut in funding. Further talks are scheduled for early next month, with new funding programmers due to begin in 2014."

His concerns are shared by others, but there are other major questions to be asked about how European funding has been, and continues to be, handled in Wales

It is disgraceful that we have qualified for a third round of funding as one of the poorest areas in Europe, and we appear to have little to show for the significant amount of money that has already been spent.

The BBC reported in October 2011 that "West Wales and the southern valleys have become relatively poorer, despite receiving billions in EU funding."

Welsh Labour MEP Derek Vaughan said it was clear the earliest years of the funding, known as Objective 1, were not properly managed, but has the second round fared any better?

Last December the Assembly's Finance committee called for a wholesale review of WEFO, the Wales European Funding Office.

This is surely long overdue. The list of failed projects and dubious decisions keeps growing.

Just a few days ago the BBC reported

"The Wales Audit Office is being asked to investigate events surrounding the collapse of a rural heritage centre project in Bala, Gwynedd. The Canolfan Cywain centre ended less than five years after opening, after an investment of over £2m of public money.

"Simon Mundy, chair of the Wales European Arts Forum, said it was unwise for public authorities to spend large amounts of public money on arts or heritage projects and then imagine they would run themselves as commercial enterprises.

"Wales is littered with failed projects which received capital funding, but not enough thought was given to how the projects would run themselves and create an income once they were up and running?," he said.

Earlier this month Welsh Government Ministers announced that they were considering the early withdrawal of funding from the flagship Genesis programme as it was failing to produce the required outcomes. The programme had received £23 million of European funding.

The programme began in Rhondda Cynon Taff where Genesis runs a number of day nurseries amongst other things.

The Taff Vale precinct proposals fell through last year when the company went into receivership. They had been awarded £6 million of funding - fortunately not of it had actually been paid out, but questions have been raised over why they were even considered for a grant when they had not submitted accounts since 2010.

The Rhondda Life project found itself in trouble last year having received £1.8 million in public funding. Their business plan was apparently based on receiving a significant amount of income from the Job match scheme which was funded by European money - but that programme was time limited and ended in March 2011. So why was a business plan which didn't take account of that accepted?

A large amount of European money is currently being spent in Pontypridd on the Council's regeneration scheme. So far traders are not convinced the money will make a difference, and it will be too little too late, but time will tell.

Also in Pontypridd we are awaiting news about the WEFO bid to renovate the Lido in Ynysangharad Park. The Council said a decision would be received in the Autumn of 2012, but there has been no news yet. Many people, including us, would argue that the funding should not be granted as it will not bring about the regeneration and sustained visitor numbers the Council claim.

The third round of European funding in Wales starts next year. Let's hope more is made of it this time.

Karen Roberts