EU funds 'a failure' in Wales, minister tells MPs

Guto Bebb
Image caption Guto Bebb: '£4bn of investment and yet our comparative economic performance fell'

Alun Cairns and Guto Bebb have been taking MPs' questions in the House of Commons.

The exchanges followed a familiar pattern. Labour MPs are still angry about July's decision to scrap rail electrification to Swansea.

Jessica Morden, filling in at the front bench as shadow Welsh Secretary Christina Rees nurses her broken foot, raised recent comments by Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies suggesting he thought the line should still be electrified and hadn't given up the ghost that it would be.

Alun Cairns stuck to last month's script about bi-modal trains and, not for the first time, ignored Mr Davies's remarks.

Guto Bebb came closest to committing news with his declaration that EU funds for the poorest parts of Wales had been a "failure".

The UK government plans to replace EU funding with a UK-wide "shared prosperity fund" after Brexit.

'Difference'

Mr Bebb told MPs: "The reality is that structural funds in Wales did not make the difference that we anticipated. This government is committed for a shared prosperity fund for the entire United Kingdom."

He was challenged by shadow Wales Office Minister Chris Ruane, who complained there was a lack of clarity about the future of the funds and asked for the funding to be maintained after Britain leaves the EU.

Mr Bebb told him: "You raise a question about EU structural funds as if they were a success in a Welsh context. They were actually a failure in a Welsh context. £4bn of investment and yet our comparative economic performance fell.

"This government is committed to a shared prosperity fund, a shared prosperity fund which will work for the benefit of the Welsh economy rather than being wasted in the way that the Welsh Government wasted our structural fund over the past 18 years."

Mr Ruane called for a meeting between Wales Office ministers, their Labour shadows and the chancellor to "sort these issues out".

'Permanently'

Still on Brexit, Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said foreign direct investment into Wales had declined by 44% during the EU referendum year.

She asked Alun Cairns: "What will it take the secretary of state to admit that the only way to protect jobs and wages is through maintaining economic links with the EU by staying in the single market and customs union permanently?" (Slightly clearer language, to my eyes, than we heard from Plaid Cymru during the general election or in the joint white paper with the Welsh Government).

Mr Cairns replied: "Last year was another successful year; 85 projects came to Wales creating 2,500 new jobs." He said exports to the EU had risen by 15%, those outside the EU by 20%.

He didn't address the question about the single market and customs union but the UK government's position remains (I think) that staying in them would mean not really leaving the EU at all.