HL Deb 06 March 2001 vol 623 cc128-9

2.52 p.m.

Lord Islwynasked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the position on the granting of objective one status to areas of Wales, and what progress has been made on implementation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, West Wales and the Valleys was granted objective one status on 1st July 1999 when the European Commission adopted a series of decisions to allow the rapid implementation of structural funds for the programming period in the years 2000 to 2006. The list of objective one eligible areas drawn up at that time included West Wales and the Valleys. Implementation of objective one programmes in Wales is a matter for the National Assembly for Wales.

Lord Islwyn

My Lords, with regard to the boundaries for objective one status, will there be a measure of flexibility in order to meet changes in circumstances? I am thinking, for example, of the current serious crisis in the steel industry. If Llanwern were to be partially closed, that would result in a loss of jobs in the Valleys, where objective one status exists. Yet such a status does not apply in the area where the works are sited. How do the Government propose to deal with that anomaly, and does it not reinforce the need for flexibility?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I begin by reassuring my noble friend Lord Islwyn that we are currently waiting to see whether any proposals which the unions might bring forward will persuade Corus to amend its plans. Recently, the Secretary of State for Wales and Rhodri Morgan each held very constructive discussions with senior Commission officials. Those officials confirmed their willingness to look at proposals which the Assembly and the Welsh partnership might put to them with regard to more flexible use of structural fund support.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is deep concern in Wales not only about the exclusion of Llanwern steelworks from the objective one area but also about the inadequate involvement of the private sector in the implementation of that status. Consequentially, there is a dearth of qualifying projects in the pipeline. Will the noble Baroness use her influence with the Lib-Lab executive in Cardiff to ensure that the fullest possible advantage is taken of the funds that will become available?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I have great pleasure in reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, that the CBI in Wales welcomed the involvement of the private sector. It considered that the private sector should be actively involved in bringing funding to projects in its ownership. The programme has got off to an extremely good start.

As I said in answer to my noble friend, the implementation of the programme is a matter for the Assembly. However, I could give examples of the Assembly announcing the first £27 million package of projects on 25th October, £8.8 million on 6th November, £2.6 million to the Further Education Funding Council, a third round of projects worth £3 million with objective one funding going to WDA projects, and a £3 million funding package towards the Baglan Energy Park. There is a list of such projects. In addition, Llanwern is within an area with objective three status. If any retraining of the workforce were required, it would of course be eligible for objective three funding.

Lord Brookman

My Lords, although I share the deep concern expressed by my noble friend Lord Islwyn about the crisis in South Wales, will the Minister confirm to me and to the House that the amount of money available under objective one status for Wales will be in excess of £400 million to £500 million, which is good news for West Wales and for the Valleys? Does she agree that it is imperative that that money is used quickly in order to resolve the deep crisis with which Wales, and in particular South Wales, is faced?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There are 1.853 million euros available for objective one and 81,390 euros for objective two funding. A long list of objective two areas are awaiting transition to objective three status. Of course, it is for the Assembly to implement objective one status.

I was questioned at length in the House about the Government's intention to provide matched funding. Therefore, I want to place on record, and I am sure that the House will join me in expressing pleasure, that, for the first time, the Government have been able to provide additional funding outside the Barnett formula in order for Wales to benefit to the full from the work carried out in partnership between the Assembly and the Government to achieve this satisfactory status.

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