The Welsh Government was joined by Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat Senedd members to launch a stinging attack on Boris Johnson's levelling-up agenda, branding it "a clear assault on Welsh devolution".

Only the Senedd's 15 Welsh Tory members opposed the Labour motion, calling on the Senedd to broadly condemn the spirit and the letter of the prime minister's plans for post-Brexit investment across the UK that has proved so controversial in both Wales and Scotland.

Introducing the motion, economy minister Vaughan Gething said the Westminster plans "represent a new era of aggressive centralisation".

Investment schemes like the Levelling Up Fund and the Community Renewal Fund will see councils bid directly, and in competition with each other, for UK government funding in a process from which the Welsh Government says it has been frozen out.

Gething told MSs Johnson was wielding powers "that are designed and are being used to usurp functions that sit within the competence of this Senedd".

"As power grabs go, Llywydd, this one is about as subtle as an earthquake," he told the Senedd, before alleging the "off of new additional money for Wales" would in fact be "a huge cut compared to what Wales would have had access to in the EU".

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He said the UK government's plans had "failed to impress" and Westminster's approach had been "chaotic, unpredictable and needlessly confrontational".

The Welsh Government's view is that "decisions about Wales should be taken in Wales," he added.

Plaid MS Luke Fletcher said the UK government had "consistently misled the people of Wales on levelling up".

"What does 'levelling-up' actually mean?" he asked the Senedd. "So far, all we've been presented with is an array of competing competitive and opaque Westminster-controlled funds, which undermine rather than enhance Wales's economic strategy."

Council areas will be eligible for the funds based on levels of priority set by the UK government.

Fletcher said the Tories had "so far refused to publish their calculations" for setting the priority areas, which has seen wealthier parts of England given greater importance than some of Wales' more deprived areas.  

"The conclusions that many people would draw is that these decision are made using political, rather than mathematical, calculations," he told the Senedd.

The National Wales: Some Senedd members were following the debate remotely. Picture: Senedd.tvSome Senedd members were following the debate remotely. Picture: Senedd.tv

Labour MS Alun Davies said community funding should be shared fairly across the UK "transparently" and "with a purpose," but accused the Johnson government of only caring about "funneling public money to contituencies and regions of England where they have won elections in recent years". 

But Conservative MS Paul Davies defended the Johnson government and said Wales should welcome the new funds which, he said, would "support improved employment outcomes and support and develop local economies".

"If the Welsh Government truly believes in devolution, then devolving these responsibilities and decisions to local authorities is true devolution and surely is the right thing to do," he said, before turning to Gething and saying: "I've heard a lot of rhetoric this afternoon from the minister, but I would remind him that Wales has two governments, and as someone who believes in the United Kingdom, I would have thought that he would welcome that, but clearly he should be sitting on those benches with the [Plaid Cymru] nationalists, I think."

Davies said Welsh ministers should be "focusing on the huge positive benefits that this fund can bring" but were "more concerned with their own role in rubber-stamping projects".

Fellow Tory MS Sam Rowlands said it was "simply not true" the levelling-up agenda would bring less money to Wales than previous EU funding.

"It's time for the [Welsh] government to work in collaboration with the UK government and local authorities to level-up funding across Wales," he added.

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And Peter Fox, another Conservative MS, said the levelling-up plans would "directly boost growth and spread opportunity to thousands of people across Wales" and called on the Senedd to "embrace this partnership approach" to investment.

But Plaid MS Delyth Jewell said the UK government's funding schemes were "designed to enrich Tory party interests, not our communities".

And Labour's Vikki Howells said Johnson's government was "trying to circumvent devolution" via an "unwelcome power grab".

Hefin David, the Labour MS for Caerphilly, said there was no "structure" to Westminster's plan, which was instead designed to "undermine" the Senedd's powers.

Following the lively – and at times confrontational – debate, Senedd members voted to select Plaid amendments calling for more transparency from Westminster and for the Welsh Government to draw up a report on the impact the levelling-up agenda would have in Wales.

The government's amended motion passed by 39 votes to 15, to place on the record the Senedd's official opposition to the Johnson govermnent's levelling-up plans.

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