There are not many rooms you could walk into and not immediately spot the elephant. Notwithstanding an exceptionally big and strategically placed pot plant, or an L-shaped room, it’s very likely going to be the first thing you notice about the room.

Even amidst the distraction of the Sue Gray report, the calls for the Prime Minister to resign, or among the bigger picture of the cost of living crisis. Except I don’t mean a pot plant, I mean £1 billion in un-replaced funding. And I don’t mean an elephant, I mean Brexit.

As an opposition party, we get to a bring a debate of our choice to the Senedd chamber on a regular basis. This week we decided on the topic of post-Brexit funding. The wording on an opposition debate goes something along the lines of “To propose that the Senedd believes that… / regrets that… / calls on the government to…” There’s a pattern, a familiarity that we all have come to know.

But this week the words just stopped me in my tracks. The well versed Brexit argument set to the familiar pattern of the Senedd opposition debate just hit me and it was like I was seeing the words for the first time:

 

“To propose that the Senedd regrets that Wales will be £1 billion worse off in un-replaced funding over the next three years.”

 

Wait, what?

Yes, that debate wording of “regrets that” sounds particularly daft when we’re talking about a deficit of £1 billion. Or perhaps that’s what caught my attention. Are we so used to t

he deficit itself that it’s only when we use less than adequate ways of talking about it that it stands out. “What’s making the leaves of that pot plant move?” made us notice the elephant for the first time.

Because £1 billion is an elephant sized chunk of money to a country like Wales. In 2022-23, £1 billion is equivalent to 5% of Welsh Government funding. The same amount raised from non-domestic rates.

Firstly, let’s be clear where this figure has come from. The figure of £1 billion has been calculated by Welsh Government following the UK government’s plan for the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) – the fund that replaces EU structural funding.

Welsh Government said that Wales is “facing a loss of more than £1bn in un-replaced funding over the next three years.” This is despite promises from the Conservatives in Westminster that Wales would receive ‘not a penny less’ from post-Brexit funding arrangements.

One sector that’s been greatly affected by changes in post-Brexit funding streams is agriculture. Specifically, our rural and agriculture communities have seen many promises broken by the Conservatives in Westminster.

The Autumn budget and spending review announced that an average of £300 million a year would be allocated to Wales for agriculture and rural development which is £37 million less than the budget allocated in 2019. This was when the Tory manifesto pledged to guarantee the current CAP budget to farmers in every year of the next Parliament.

This will make Welsh agriculture around £248 million worse off by 2025 and lead to unemployment, poverty, stress, and huge uncertainty to our rural farming communities.

The National Wales: Luke Fletcher MSLuke Fletcher MS

In the Plaid Cymru Senedd debate this week, we will make it clear that the UK Government must be held to account to commitments made on future funding for Welsh farming.

Another sector in Wales hit hard by changes to post-Brexit funding is research, development and innovation.

Currently, Wales does not achieve a share of UK Research and Innovation funding equivalent to the Barnett formula. In fact, in 2020, despite Wales making up 5% of the UK population, we received only 2% of UK R&D funding.

Meanwhile the East and South East of England account for 52% of UK R&D funding spend despite having only 37% of the population!

The Conservative Party promised in 2019 to replace EU regional funding with a programme that is ‘fairer and better tailored to our economy’, however so far, however, the amount of funding allocated to this end has failed to match the promise of the UK Government’s ‘levelling-up’ rhetoric.

The levelling-up agenda does nothing to correct past mistakes or deliver for the future. My party, Plaid Cymru, believes that it should be for the democratically elected Welsh Parliament to decide how to spend what money is left.

If the Shared Prosperity Fund is devolved then a needs-based funding formula can be adopted. This would be a way of correcting the arbitrary, top-down approach adopted by the UK Government.

It’s time we addressed the elephant in the room: Wales is going to be significantly worse off financially from post-Brexit funding arrangements than we were when in receipt of EU funding streams, despite promises from the Conservatives in Westminster that we would receive ‘not a penny less’.

This is especially serious as we enter a cost of living crisis.

Devolving the Shared Prosperity Fund to Wales is necessary to ensure that the funds are directed to properly tackle the cost-of-living crisis head on.