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Written Statement - Publication of the EU Funding Ambassadors’ Final Report

Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Finance and Government Business

Today I am pleased to announce publication of the EU Funding Ambassadors’ final report “Europe Matters to Wales: EU Policy and Funding Opportunities 2014-2020”.

I appointed the panel of EU Funding Ambassadors (Dr Grahame Guilford, Dr Hywel Ceri Jones and Gaynor Richards MBE) in December 2014 to help promote and maximise opportunities presented by the directly managed EU funding programmes. The appointments were made in direct response to the Enterprise and Business Committee’s report on EU funding opportunities 2014-2020, published in July 2014, which highlighted the need to engage in and promote further the directly managed EU programmes in Wales.

This final report, which is available online, represents 15 months of investigative and promotional work by the ambassadors on a part–time and voluntary basis. During this time they have conducted an extensive programme of discussions and attended and facilitated events, at both domestic and EU level. This has included a series of meetings with Welsh Government ministers and officials, the WLGA, the WCVA, the CBI, Institute of Directors, FSB, and the Higher and Further Education sectors, together with various other partners and stakeholders involved in the deployment and delivery of European Policy Funding.

The ambassadors have also worked with their respective sectors to promote and maximise EU funding opportunities and have helped to facilitate, and have participated in, a number of key conferences and events including today’s Horizon 2020 Annual Event and the joint Welsh Government and WCVA Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion conference. They have also had a number of discussions with the European Commission and other European Institutions and their work has involved them looking across the rest of the UK and Europe to identify best practice.

I am extremely grateful to all 3 ambassadors for the time and effort that they have devoted to their roles and for the positive impact they have had in engaging with partners and stakeholders and raising the awareness and profile of EU funding opportunities in Wales. This work has been extremely valuable in itself but they have also set out in their final report a number of key recommendations which they believe will leave us much better placed to derive maximum benefit from the synergies between Welsh Government and EU policy priorities for the remainder of the 2014-2020 programming period. These are supplemented by a number of thematic proposals and observations.

The ambassadors’ recommendations build upon the proposals contained in their interim report, which I published in December and, on which I sought comments from partners and stakeholders across all sectors in Wales. It was clear from the responses received that the ambassadors’ proposals were widely supported and I am pleased to see these further developed in their final report.

In light of the earlier recommendations contained in the ambassadors’ interim report I am also pleased to announce that we have already taken action to establish a senior officials EU Policy Group.

The ambassadors have emphasised the importance of identifying and focusing on key strategic priorities that are of importance to Wales and targeting efforts and resources in pursuit of these as opposed to simply chasing funding opportunities. They have proposed the introduction of a priority driven, strategically focused integrated management and delivery structure involving government and partners to help achieve those goals.

The ambassadors have placed great emphasis on the need for prioritisation, and have suggested that there are likely to be significant opportunities in areas such as Smart Cities, Life Science and Healthcare, the impact of an ageing population and disaffection amongst young people, particularly where this might be addressed by early years interventions.

It is essential that we continue to build upon the support that we receive from the EU Structural Funds, the Rural Development Programme and the Common Agricultural Policy, worth over £500m annually, to further target and access other EU funding opportunities and to increase their profile in Wales. I’m sure that these proposals will help us to do that and will help to strengthen the partnership arrangements needed to deliver that goal and help the Welsh Government in championing European funding.

I warmly welcome the report, and while it will be for a new Welsh Government to consider implementation of the recommendations and to determine future organisational and delivery arrangements, I am pleased to endorse the thrust of the proposals contained in it.

The 7 key recommendations contained in the Ambassadors’ report are listed below:

  1. A review and restatement of the Welsh Government’s EU strategy, incorporating a European Prioritisation Framework which would set out clearly a limited number of key strategic areas as the highest priorities for Welsh Government targeting and support in the period up to 2020.
  2. The confirmation by the new post-election Welsh Government of the European Policy Group, comprising members at the most senior levels of government, chaired by the minister designated with responsibility for EU policy funding.
  3. Further development of the new European network group and its expansion to include a wider range of stakeholders.
  4. The establishment of a support team to underpin the work of the European Policy Group, drawing together expertise from key policy officials, WEFO and Welsh Government staff in Brussels.
  5. Strengthening the role of the Welsh Government office in Brussels as the key focus of tactical implementation, a key source of intelligence to inform strategic prioritisation, and empowered to drive follow up action in pursuit of Welsh Government priorities.
  6. Consideration of the future management arrangements required to strengthen the overall coordination of the range of EU Policy funding streams available to Wales.
  7. Welsh Government should continue to communicate widely good examples to illustrate the impact, potential or actual, of Welsh/European ventures and the difference they can and do make to Wales.