Structural Funds Debate

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Welsh Lib Dem Debate

Structural Funds

Mark Drakeford: I want to concentrate on the third part of the Liberal Democrat motion in front of the Assembly this afternoon, which urges

‘the Welsh government to publish an economic development strategy…as a matter of urgency’.

I want to do that by providing Members with a brief account of the latest meeting of the European programmes partnership forum, which took place on 2 March. Membership of the forum includes senior representation from all relevant walks of Welsh life. The largest group of all comes from the private sector and includes representatives from the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and the Institute of Directors, and senior individual businessmen and businesswomen from major Welsh companies and from international companies doing business in Wales. As you might expect, given the calibre of that list, the quality of discussion at the forum was both lively and closely argued.

In formulating advice to the Welsh Government on the shape of any future European programme, a set of parameters was already becoming clear. In the view of the forum, a further round would need to be flexible enough to respond to the most volatile European economic outlook of any programme period, to be willing to manage a higher level of risk than in any previous programme, to be open to learning from experience elsewhere in Europe and to be willing to grasp some thorny issues that will need to be negotiated in advance of the post-2014 period, whether that means having a relatively robust discussion with the Commission about its emerging thinking in relation to the place of infrastructure in the next round or some straight talking among ourselves about the part that city-region-thinking needs to play in planning for the future.

The forum has three further future meetings planned during the rest of this calendar year, at which its members want to flesh out its advice further and, in particular, in relation to the complex range of different funding streams that the Commission makes clear, as Nick Ramsay did earlier, that it expects a future round to deliver in a more integrated fashion, delivering both thematic concentration and taking account of conditionality.

Deputy Minister, you have a choice. You could follow the advice provided in the motion; you could shut the forum down and advise its members that there simply is no time to listen to their advice or to draw on the experience that they and their members have in such abundance, because, ‘as a matter of urgency’, as the motion says, a plan must be plucked out of the ether in the here and now. You could, as amendment 1 prefers, carry on preparing with our partners so that we have a set of proposals that meet the real needs of the future rather than the rhetorical demands of a sloppily drafted motion.

I will be listening carefully to what you have to say, of course, but so will members of the forum. They are busy people with working lives of their own to organise, and they will want to know whether they have a contribution to make that the Welsh Government at least values and wants to continue.