A Labour Assembly member has called out Tory Welsh funding hypocrisy.
At Senedd question time on Wednesday (22 Jan), Welsh Conservative leader and Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies challenged the Welsh Government over broadband services in west Wales. But Joyce Watson, who represents the Mid and West Wales region, was quick to point out that telecommunications is not devolved; she suggested Mr Davies ask the Conservative UK government instead.
Mrs Watson said:
“Paul Davies would be better off asking his masters in Westminster about having some money here to fund something that they are ultimately responsible for.”
And Welsh deputy economy minister Lee Waters agreed. He said:
“I do get a little fed up when I get letters from Conservative MPs in particular, asking what more is the Government going to do about this, when this is their own Government’s responsibility that they have not discharged.
“Now, due to that failure, we instead have stepped in, and we’ve made significant progress—95 per cent of people in Wales are now connected to superfast schemes, and we’ve diverted funding from devolved areas into this non-devolved area because of market failure and UK Government inaction. Some £200 million in total has been spent.
“Via Superfast Cymru, we have provided over 111,350 premises across west Wales with average broadband speeds of 82 Mbps, investing over £32.3 million. Our successor scheme will provide connectivity to a further 1,348 premises, alongside support from Access Broadband Cymru and the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. And a new community fund is also being developed.”
Joyce Watson also asked whether or not the UK government will replace lost European funding post-Brexit – not only for broadband but for other projects EU money helps finance – and who will decide how that money is spend, Wales or Westminster. She added:
“The two big questions regarding the UK shared prosperity fund are: ‘will it match the money that Wales currently receives from Europe, as the Brexiters promised?’ and ‘will it be devolved?’ Has the UK Government deigned to share its plans with Wales yet, or, for that matter, Scotland or Northern Ireland?”
After the UK leaves the European Union, it will no longer receive structural funding, which is worth about £2.1 billion per year. In order to replace this money, the UK Government has pledged to set up a Shared Prosperity Fund. However, whereas Welsh Government has been responsible for deciding how to spend European funding in the past, it is not yet clear who will make those decisions in future – Cardiff Bay or London.
In reply to Joyce, Welsh Government Brexit minister Jeremy Miles AM said:
“I met with the Secretary of State for Wales on 9 January and reiterated, as I have with other UK Government Ministers, the Welsh Government’s position of, ‘Not a penny less, not a power lost’ for replacement EU funds in Wales.
“The UK Government has committed to replace the funds lost to Wales through European structural funds. What we have asked for is for that to be quantified and for it to be by way of adjustment to the block grant so that the expenditure of that money, a hundred per cent of that money, is in accordance with the devolution settlement and enables the Welsh Government, as it does today, to deploy those funds in Wales to the best advantage of the people of Wales and to do that in a way that it can integrate with the other sources of regional funding across Wales.”