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Written Statement - Irish Minister Brendan Howlin, TD, visit to Wales for the Ireland/Wales European Territorial Co-operation Cross Border programme and developments on the European Structural Fund Programmes 2014-2020

Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance

Ireland / Wales Cross-border programme

Today (11th  April), Brendan Howlin, TD,  Ireland’s Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, is visiting Wales to see at first-hand some of the achievements of the EU’s Ireland / Wales Cross-Border programme. His visit also marks our announcement today that the Welsh Government will manage the new Ireland / Wales programme for the period 2014–2020, worth around £75 million of total investment (ERDF £66m) in the cross-border region. 
    
The current Ireland/Wales programme 2007–2013 is managed by the Southern and Eastern Regional Assembly in Ireland and has supported 41 collaborative projects, backed with £41m from the European Regional Development Fund, representing a total investment of £58m.

Responsibility for managing the new programme will pass to the Welsh Government, working in partnership with the Irish authorities. The Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) will take on the role of Managing Authority and the new programme will provide a basis for working together and sharing best practice in addressing common economic, social challenges and opportunities relating to innovation, climate change, and the development of natural and cultural resources.

I am also pleased to announce that the total programme value is set to increase to around 92m Euros (around £75m). This underlines the importance that both Governments attach to increasing collaboration across both sides of the Irish Sea. This increase is also the largest percentage increase in funding for any of the UK’s European Territorial Co-operation programmes.

The final financial allocations for the new European Territorial Co-operation programmes are set at Member State level and will be confirmed by the UK Government and the EC over the next few weeks – subject to the European Commission’s adoption of the implementing act, expected at the end of April.

A public consultation on the new Ireland/Wales programme will be undertaken by the Welsh Government from June before submission of the Operational Programmes to the Commission in mid-September.

Structural Funds programmes 2014–2020 

We are also reaching a critical phase in seeking agreement from the European Commission on the new Structural Fund Programmes 2014-2020 for Wales and I want to inform Members of some important milestones that will be reached over the Easter period.

Our Operational Programmes are well-advanced, having been developed in close consultation with stakeholders and the Commission over the last couple of years, but the formal submission of our programmes has been held up by repeated delays in finalising the UK Partnership Agreement.

The recent Judicial Review brought by Sheffield and Merseyside Local Authorities and issues around the content of the England Chapter has meant delays to the submission of the Partnership Agreement by the UK Government.   I understand that the UK Government will shortly be making an announcement on its review of the EU Structural Fund financial allocations across the UK in the context of its Public Sector Equality Duty, following the Judicial Review, and that it plans to submit the Partnership Agreement by the EC regulatory deadline of 22 April 2014.

This is a significant milestone which will enable the Welsh Government to formally submit the Wales Operational Programmes and to enter into formal negotiations with the Commission.
 
In the meantime, informal discussions on our programmes with the Commission have been underway for several months.   I am pleased to report that discussions are progressing very well, and I must take this opportunity to thank all our partners who have helped shape the content and structure of our programmes.  Last week (31 March), I met the Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, who presented Wales with a prestigious EU Regiostars Award for the BEACON bio-refining project, and was very complimentary about the development of our new programmes.

In the meantime, we are continuing to help organisations across all sectors in Wales in the planning and development of projects and have held a number of information events and workshops and published key documents, including the draft Operational Programmes and other guidance.

Last week, following further work with partners to fully develop the regional sections, an updated version of the Economic Prioritisation Framework was also published (http://wefo.wales.gov.uk/applyingforfunding/funding2014-2020/epf/?lang=en) which will form an integral part of WEFO’s process of appraising projects, and help secure greater focus, concentration, integration and prioritisation in the use of the EU funds.

We have also established and held initial meetings of the 2014–2020 shadow Wales European Structural and Investment Funds Programme Monitoring Committee – the first shadow PMC established in the UK – which has already discussed and supported ‘in principle’ our proposed methodology and criteria for the selection of operations for EU funds.

I will continue to update Members as further developments arise.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.