Welsh Liberal Democracts Debate Raising GDP – 2nd November 2011

Mark Drakeford: I hope to contribute this afternoon in my capacity as chair of the programme monitoring committee for European funding. Most Members will know that the PMC is a European requirement that brings together senior figures from business, local authorities, the research community, trade unions, the third sector and beyond to discharge functions on behalf on the Commission and to advise the Welsh Government on the progress of the programme. Thanks largely to the hard work of my predecessor, Jeff Cuthbert, and the team that works on the programme, there have been significant achievements in recent years. I believe that members of the PMC would be disappointed at the negative tone with which this motion begins—not at the call for lessons to be learned, because we do that all of the time, but at the way in which it devalues the efforts of so many individuals and organisations, not here, but in those parts of Wales where European funding makes a positive difference every day. The mover of the motion was right in one thing at least: it is worth putting on record some of those achievements. They are not bureaucratic achievements, in the rather flippant way that she suggested, and in a moment I will try to explain to her why those achievements that are to do with administration are particularly important to Wales’s reputation in this area.

Beyond issues of administration, it is worth reminding ourselves that Wales was the first country in the European Union to win the RegioStars award for innovation. It was nothing to do with bureaucracy; it was to do with recognition of the work done by European-funded companies. In 2008, it was OpTIC Technium in St Asaph. In 2009, it was a programme at Swansea University that shows businesses how to use new technologies to improve energy efficiency, increase turnover and become more successful. It is no wonder that, in 2010, during a visit to Wales, EC President Barosso praised Wales and said that he considered it to be one of the most successful regions, or in this case a nation, properly using EU funding. He said that Wales is among the best and most effective spenders. The awards for innovation did not stop there. We are the only place in Europe that has won a third RegioStars innovation award. This year it was for growth in environment and marine sciences, for a project that prepares graduates working in marine sciences for the commercial world. When he presented that award, Commissioner Hahn of DG Regio said that Wales should be proud of its successes and for providing inspiration for other European nations.

Nid ydym yng Nghymru yn ystyried materion Ewropeaidd yn yr un ffordd elyniaethus ag y mae Llywodraeth San Steffan yn eu gweld. Yr ydym yn cydnabod y cymorth cyson yr ydym wedi’i gael o gyllidebau Ewropeaidd dros y degawd o ddatganoli. Yr ydym yn edrych ymlaen at gynllunio a pharatoi ar gyfer y cyfnod nesaf. Rhaid inni fod yn ofalus er mwyn diogelu’r enw da yr ydym wedi llwyddo i’w ennill ers dechrau’r rhaglen.
[We in Wales do not think of European issues in the same hostile way as the Westminster Government. We recognise the consistent support that we have received from European funds over the decade of devolution. We look forward to planning and preparing for the next period. We must be careful, so that we safeguard the reputation that we have succeeded in gaining since the start of this programme.]

It is on that point—its willingness to dispense with that hard-won reputation for careful and effective administration—that this motion is so badly wrong-headed. It attacks where it ought to have proceeded carefully; it suggests action where only care is required. Let us hope that, at the end of this afternoon, it does not leave here representing this Assembly’s view of those very important issues on which our reputation depends, not only in Wales, but far beyond.