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    26 January, 2006

    Objective One

    The outcome of the EU Budget discussions before Christmas was obviously good news for the Valleys, with the confirmation that we will continue to get Objective One money ( to be called Convergence funding after 2007). We had a debate on this yesterday when I spoke.

    Leighton Andrews: The result of the EU Council of Ministers is good news for Wales, and that is to be welcomed, but I wish to focus on how we approach some of the issues to do with the drafting of the next programme, and some of the themes that we need to engage with in order to ensure that Valleys communities benefit from the next programme. They have certainly benefited from the Objective 1 programme as it has gone, but we can do more in the future to improve the benefits that are seen in the Valleys.

    In reply to Alun Ffred Jones’s point, the issue of councils not delivering on the moneys that were available could apply to the then Plaid-Cymru-run Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, which was one of the councils that failed to spend its local regeneration fund money allocation.

    Alun Ffred Jones: The figures for the Rhondda Cynon Taf area were among the best in Wales as far as the LRF money was concerned.

    Leighton Andrews: You should go back to look at those figures—you will see that there were several unspent millions. I want to talk a little about some of the priorities that have been identified in the Wales European Funding Office report, which has been discussed by the programme monitoring committee under the chairmanship of my colleague, Jeff Cuthbert, on the review of the six Valleys Objective 1 programme. It has looked at the new priorities, post-2006, that will be important for the future, and has set them out under a number of headings: town centre and urban renewal, transport and accessibility, tourism and development, business development, and sectoral growth. There are others, but I specifically want to mention the importance of town centre and urban renewal, and its relationship to community regeneration, because that is an area that has probably not benefited us as much as it might have done in the first period of Objective 1. I would like to see Valleys towns gaining benefits under that programme. The area of tourism development for the Valleys could also be further supported under the new programme.

    It is interesting that it is west Wales and the Valleys and Cornwall, as I understand it, which will benefit under the next round of convergence funding. We have been talking about learning from the experience of other areas, and some of these issues were quite well-addressed by Cornwall in its single programming document when it went for Objective 1 money. Cornwall set out as a specific priority, in what it called priority 5, ‘regional distinctiveness’. I will not go through it in detail because there is not enough time. However, to illustrate some of the themes that Cornwall picked out as underpinning that priority, the first was the natural environment, the second was a historic built environment heritage, including ‘an industrial heritage based on mining’, the third was a culture and arts heritage based on the Celtic tradition and the Cornish language, the fourth was a history of innovation and enterprise that had placed Cornwall at the heart of the industrial revolution, and the fifth was an existing base of knowledge and expertise in art. It seems to me that a number of those themes of regional distinctiveness could equally apply—if not more so, in many respects—to Wales. The case for issues relating to the former coalfield areas in Wales needs to be made, and I would strongly argue to Ministers that a priority based on enhancing the regional distinctiveness of Wales would be very valuable as we draw up the new single programming document.

    Glyn Davies: I agree with everything that you say, but is it fair to interpret your comments as a very strong criticism of the way in which the previous programme was drawn up? We heard Huw’s contribution, but are you saying to the Assembly Government that it must do an awful lot better when it draws up the programme for the next round?

    Leighton Andrews: I would not take it as a criticism, in the sense that there have been clear benefits for the communities which I represent, and those which my colleagues represent. However, Huw pointed to a clear problem in the distribution of Objective 1 moneys, and the importance of a more strategic approach in future. One of the big difficulties—which has been attended to by the Minister for Economic Development and Transport—has been the bureaucracy in the programme that existed in the early days, and some of the partnership arrangements that were put in place.

    I am glad that those have been dealt with, but if we are going to box clever in future with this programme, we need to look at what our assets are in Wales, what areas of distinctiveness we have and seek to build on those in the programme that we draw up. What was done in Cornwall was imaginative; it gave considerable scope for projects to be developed on a strategic basis, which fitted well with an economic development strategy. The approach that I outline would fit well with the ‘WAVE’ development strategy that the Minister for Economic Development and Transport presented recently to the Economic Development and Transport Committee. I am calling for a more strategic approach to this programme. We need to build on some of the lessons learned in other places. There is no harm in us learning from the lessons in other places just as there is no harm in other parts of the world learning from Wales.

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