Wales politics

'Invest £1.1bn EU cash before Brexit', says council leader

EU and Wales flags

The leader of one of the largest councils in Wales has called for an "all guns blazing" approach to investing European funds before the UK leaves the EU.

Andrew Morgan, from Rhondda Cynon Taf council, says infrastructure projects should be accelerated in light of the Brexit vote.

A total of £1.1bn of EU funding in Wales is yet to be allocated.

The money is due to be invested between now and 2020.

But a withdrawal from the EU before then would cut the spending round short.

Leave campaigners say the UK government would make up the shortfall, however there has been scepticism from the first minister who says he does not trust the Treasury to make up any shortfall.

EU structural funds are managed by the Welsh European Funding Office, which is based in Merthyr Tydfil, and is part of the Welsh Government.

Much of the funding yet to be allocated is for the most economically-deprived communities across north and west Wales, and the south Wales valleys.

Image copyright Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Image caption Some areas of Wales have qualified for the highest amount of EU support since 2000

Mr Morgan called for the decision-making and systems governing EU funds to be speeded up.

He said: "The Welsh European Funding Office moves far too slowly.

"It is a drawn out process and if we are being told that European funding is at risk they really have got to go all guns blazing.

"I would hope that the Welsh Government will put pressure on the Welsh European Funding Office to get these projects started as soon as we can.

"If there is a downturn in the economy then these projects could create secure construction jobs."

The council leader said his officials were now working with a greater degree of urgency on a number of EU-funded town-centre regeneration schemes.

Image caption EU money is helping fund the Heads of the Valleys road improvements

The body which monitors EU spending in Wales meets for the first time since the referendum on Friday. It will be chaired by the Welsh Government's finance secretary Mark Drakeford.

One Vote Leave campaigner, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, said the focus should be on "outcomes, not spending money for the sake of it".

He said: "Qualification for structural funding is not a badge of honour, it's a reflection of the relative poverty of those in areas who meet the criteria, and after three successive rounds of funding that money has clearly not been put to good use."

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: "We are determined to maximise the EU funds allocated to Wales for the benefit of our people, communities, businesses, universities and colleges.

"Where there is scope to accelerate draw-down of EU funds, we will aim to do just that.

"The protection of jobs, businesses and communities and the delivery of our programmes in Wales is hugely dependent on the timescale for leaving the EU and we need early clarification from the UK government of that timescale.

"We have also called for a guarantee from the UK government that every penny of EU funds to Wales is safe."

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