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EU Structural Funds: Least Developed Regions — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:26 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:26 pm, 26th June 2019

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield on securing the debate and on the case that he outlined.

For the past 20 years or so, Wales has been a net beneficiary of the European regional development fund and that funding has allowed the transformation of towns and villages across south Wales. There has been hugely significant investment in Merthyr Tydfil town centre, which has helped to regenerate the whole town centre—a new college development, and the creation of a new square that has become the focal point for a calendar of cultural events. The A465, which my hon. Friend Nick Smith mentioned, and which has had a history of collisions over many years, has vastly improved because of a continuing project to create a dual carriageway. There is one more phase to complete, linking my constituency to west Wales and, to the east, through to the M50, M5 and midlands. That has all been possible with the support of regional development funding from the EU.

In communities across my constituency, such as New Tredegar, Treharris, Bedlinog and Rhymney, there have been transport schemes, flood alleviation works and town and village centre regeneration, all supported through regional development funding, which has proved essential in beginning the process of regenerating communities across the south Wales valleys.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central, the Thatcher Government ripped the heart out of our communities, threw countless people’s jobs on the scrapheap and decimated towns and villages across south Wales, without having any plan to replace the jobs that were lost. The economic decline of the ’80s and ’90s can still be felt today, despite the investment that the valleys have had, which stemmed from the work of the Labour Government. I have tried to outline the history of the communities that I represent, and to highlight why economic deprivation exists. We benefited from regional development funding quite simply because we needed it, which is why it is essential that we now have clarity from the Government about the future for the shared prosperity fund. The Government have not been clear about their proposal for the fund. We were promised, as we have heard, that consultation would take place before the end of 2018, and we are now halfway through 2019. There is no sign of the consultation. As my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock has said, that is completely unacceptable.

A few weeks ago in Welsh questions I asked the Secretary of State to provide clarity on the fund and how it would work, what areas of the country would benefit, and how much the fund would be—and there was no answer from the Secretary of State. I hope that today the Minister will provide some of the clarity that is needed. The people of Wales, and people across the UK, were told by the leave campaign that we would not lose a penny if we left the EU. As things stand, we are due to leave the EU later this year and we are still unclear about the many millions of pounds that Wales currently receives as part of the EU, and how that money will be replaced by the Government. There is a need for certainty, so I have two questions for the Minister. Will the new fund be based on need, and will the Government respect devolution in their allocation of the new funding?