There is of course an evident need to level up the nations of the United Kingdom and the regions of England, but rather than bringing communities and nations together for the common good, the Government have used this agenda to make light of our democratically mandated institutions. Nothing more clearly demonstrates this than the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020—legislation so hostile to devolution and destructive to joined-up economic development that even the Welsh Labour Government tried to take the UK Government to court. The “Westminster knows best” school of thought has already left the UK with one of the most regionally unequal economies in the west.
The Government’s regional development funds may be dressed up as silk purses, but the most cursory inspection reveals them to be sows’ ears. We know that the UK Government have now broken their 2019 manifesto promise that Wales would receive the same level of financial support from the UK as from the EU. Allocated funds are a pale shadow of what Wales received and had control over from the EU. The EU takes a needs-based approach, which resulted in Wales receiving four times the UK average per person. Why? Because that was recognised as necessary to challenge chronic deprivation. What are the UK Government doing? They are taking a competitive approach, which guarantees Wales only 5% of the levelling-up fund. The Welsh Government themselves reckon that Wales could end up getting as little as £50 million a year—a fraction of the £375 million a year that we received from the EU.
On top of that, rather than working with experienced Welsh institutions, UK Government institutions such as the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which has no track record whatsoever with devolved affairs, will now bypass the devolved Governments and control funding directly. The consequences are already clear. Local funding will be tied to the effectiveness of representations by local MPs, just as Westminster cuts the number of Welsh MPs by a fifth. How is Wales supposed to receive its fair share? I reiterate that Wales is one of the poorest countries within the EU, the United Kingdom and the western world. We have not received what we needed in the past, and we are set to receive considerably less.
Equally outrageous is how the Tories have engineered a system so that they can indulge in patronage politics. The Chancellor is set to funnel public funds to his own constituency and other Tory seats. My county of Gwynedd was prioritised under previous EU funding, without fear or favour, for the simple reason that it is one of the least developed regions of Europe, let alone the UK, yet now Gwynedd is put at the bottom of the list in the levelling-up fund tiers.
Gwynedd, Wales and indeed the UK are owed more and deserve better. The Government must keep their word and ensure that in future, Wales gets at least the equivalent of what we previously received in EU funding. They should work with the devolved Parliament on the principle of mutual respect and parity of equals. The Tories of all Parliaments should respect their political traditions and repudiate the in-built centralising instincts of Westminster. Public money should be spent on the long-term public good, not on short-term political glory.