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Written Statement - European Commission approval of the 2014–2020 ESF Operational Programmes for West Wales and the Valleys and East Wales, and the establishment of an EU Funding Ambassador Panel for the EU’s directly managed programmes.    

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Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance and Government Business

Today I am pleased to announce that the European Commission has approved the European Social Fund (ESF) Operational Programmes 2014–2020 for West Wales and the Valleys (WW&V) and East Wales (EW).

The approval of £804 million of ESF funds follows the Commission’s approval of the £1.1 billion European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Programmes, bringing the total EU Structural Funds investment of nearly £2bn to help drive the EU and Welsh Government’s shared goals for sustainable economic growth and jobs.  

As with the ERDF programmes, Wales is the first nation in the UK and one of the first in the EU to have its ESF programmes approved. It follows extensive negotiations over the past nine months with the European Commission, and its adoption of the UK Partnership Agreement on 29 October, an EC regulatory requirement.

The ESF programmes, worth nearly £642m of EU funds for WW&V and some £162m for EW, will drive a total investment (i.e. with match funding) of around £1.2bn to help transform the prospects of the most marginalised and vulnerable in our society, driving productivity and growth through a skilled, agile and entrepreneurial workforce and investing in the future of our young people.  The ESF investments include:

  • a substantial investment of over 22% of our ESF funds, some £190m, to help tackle poverty across Wales by supporting people into sustainable employment, helping the most marginalised and disadvantaged individuals within our society;
  • a 20% increase in support for the development of skills amongst our employed workforce to help drive an innovative and high quality knowledge based economy in Wales, representing a total ESF funds investment of £353m;  
  • over £240m to tackle youth unemployment in Wales, which includes for the first time, a dedicated youth employment priority for the EW programme. The investment will help young people to obtain quality and sustainable employment and increase attainment levels, including in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects across Wales; and  
  • building on the experience of our previous programmes, specific investments to enhance gender equality in the workplace.

The final ESF Operational Programmes will be published shortly on the WEFO website (www.wefo.wales.gov.uk). Prior to this, a table showing the agreed financial allocations for each investment priority of the ESF programmes is attached as an Appendix to this Statement.  

Approval of the Structural Fund Operational Programmes means that the “Wales Programme Monitoring Committee European Structural and Investment Funds 
2014–2020” can now be formally constituted and can approve the investment selection criteria at its meeting today.  This will enable us to start delivering operations on the ground and I hope to be in a position to announce the first project approval later this month.

Synergies and links between Structural Funds and other EU funding programmes managed directly by the Commission, such as Horizon 2020 and ERASMUS, are also very important and I am also delighted to announce today that Dr Grahame Guilford, Dr Hywel Ceri Jones, and Gaynor Richards MBE have all agreed to serve on a small panel of EU Funding Ambassadors to help promote and maximise opportunities presented by the EU’s directly managed funding programmes for 
2014–2020.

It is important that we build upon the support we have received from these other EU funding streams in the past and further target these resources and increase their profile in Wales. This was the message contained in recent reports of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and the Enterprise and Business Committee and I see the establishment of this panel as a crucial step in helping to strengthen the partnership arrangements needed to help the Welsh Government in championing European funding.

The Ambassadors bring a great deal of knowledge and experience of working within the private, public and third sectors, and of European funding matters generally.
They will draw on their experience and work within their respective sectors to help promote and maximise these funding opportunities and advise me on how Wales can be more successful in exploiting funding under these programmes.  In particular, it will be important to identify and promote integration and advise on how best to maximise synergies with other EU and domestic funding streams, such as the Structural Funds and Rural Development programme, and links with the Economic Prioritisation Framework.  

As these directly managed EU funding programmes run across a number of Ministerial portfolios there will also be potential opportunities for the Ambassadors to engage with other Ministers and their officials in the course of their work.

They will start their Ambassador roles immediately and will meet with me on a quarterly basis.  I will continue to update Members on progress.    

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