The Strategic Forum for Regional Investment in Wales’ responsibilities and how it will work.
1. In November 2020 the Welsh Government published its Framework for Regional Investment in Wales (‘Framework’) proposing a model for regional, place-based economic development interventions in the future. It builds on three years of co-production with the Regional Investment for Wales Steering Group and supporting sub groups, a public consultation, and the OECD report into multi-level governance within Wales.
2. On 3 March 2021, the UK Government rebranded its Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) pilot as a Community Renewal Fund (CRF) (on GOV.UK) during 2021-22 and made clear, through the publication of a prospectus (on GOV.UK) for the fund, that it was excluding the Welsh Government from the bidding process and governance structure.
3. The UK Investment Framework, setting out how the longer-term SPF will work in future years, is expected to be published in July 2021 at the earliest, with a potential multi-annual financial commitment (the ‘ramping up’ to £1.5bn annually), expected in the planned UK Comprehensive Spending Review (SR) later this year.
4. The purpose of the UK-wide £220m CRF is explicitly described as being to ‘strengthen the relationship between UK Government and places across the UK’, building capacity for the UK SPF. One hundred priority places have been identified by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in line with methodology (on GOV.UK) it published on 11 March 2021.
5. Welsh Government Ministers are committed to trying to engage with the UK Government on the development of the longer-term SPF despite the lack of any meaningful engagement to date. To that end, the Strategic Forum (‘Forum’) will offer advice and reaction to the developments of the UK SPF and CRF as they are announced to influence Welsh Government positions and responses.
Purpose of the Forum
6. This Forum provides the opportunity for Members, including the Welsh Government, to communicate and collaborate on positions on regional economic investment, which is of devolved competence to Wales, and work together to maximise the outcomes for Wales of any such investment.
7. It will also directly inform advice to Welsh Ministers, helping to set the Welsh Government’s strategic response as developments arise.
8. The agenda will build on the scope of discussions held by the Regional Investment for Wales Steering Group, to cover the domestic and international landscape of regional investment in Wales, as it emerges. This includes the effects of the aftermath of the UK’s exit from the European Union, and the intent of the UK Government in this space, including those covering the policy and delivery of the pilot CRF and the longer-term investment framework for the UK SPF.
9. The immediate priority of the Forum will be to help identify issues that the policy and delivery arrangements of the UK CRF and future SPF will bring at national, regional and local levels. It is proposed the work of the Forum is initially split into two key strands:
- Responding to the announced Prospectus and advising Ministers on stakeholder positions
- Facilitating collaboration between Members to help facilitate the objectives of the Framework.
10. The Forum will not be required to reach complete agreement between Members as a result of discussion, but instead the Forum is a platform for Members to test and co-develop their views. The Welsh Ministers will also participate in this collaborative approach, via the Secretariat and Ministerial involvement as appropriate.
11. The Welsh Government will report on progress in each area discussed, explaining where the advice from the Forum is reflected in Welsh Government positions, and reporting on and discussing reasons for the non-inclusion of any clear positions set out by the Forum.
12. Members appointed to the Forum as representatives of bodies or umbrella organisations will be expected to discuss proposals with their constituents, subject to potential restrictions on circulation of some papers (see below).
13. Members are also encouraged to use existing networks to ensure a wide range of views and ideas and brought to each meeting to inform discussions.
14. It is expected that the same partners will be actively involved to ensure continuity and maintain expertise in the discussion.
Duration, meetings, and papers
15. The Forum will be convened to cover the initial stages of the delivery of the pilot CRF and the UK Government’s planning phase for the main investment framework and spending profiles for the SPF, expected to be announced this year. Meetings will take place initially at least every 2-3 months, but additional meetings may be convened by the Chair, particularly in line with key developments.
16. Given the fluid nature of developments, the need for the Forum will be reviewed at the end of 2021.
17. Discussion papers will be prepared by Welsh Government officials, as well as papers arranged by Members, where appropriate. Each paper will identify key issues, seeking a discussion on how Members can best collaborate to achieve the best outcomes for Wales. Members are encouraged to offer challenge and bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the debate.
18. Papers for the meeting will be issued at least 7 days prior to the meeting where the proximity of developments makes this possible, and via electronic circulation only where this is possible. Members are expected to have read the papers prior to the meeting so that discussion can be informed without the need to cover the detail of the papers. This will help ensure the meeting duration is fully productive.
19. Papers will be clearly marked to identify the level of circulation that is appropriate. It is likely that papers can be freely circulated, but there may also be papers that will not be for publication or wider circulation than the Forum due to their potential sensitivity, and to allow a free and open debate on the options being discussed. In these instances a summary sheet of the issues will be included that can be used to help Members to consult with their constituents on related issues.
20. A summary of the discussion and actions agreed will be drafted by the Secretariat and circulated to Members within 10 working days of the meeting. A version of this note will be published to aid transparency, alongside any non-restricted papers.
21. Members will not be remunerated for their time serving on the Forum but Welsh Government will offer to pay travel and subsistence for members other than those representing public bodies. The travel and subsistence rates will be commensurate with civil service rates and rules applicable at that time.
Conflicts of interest
22. Members are required to declare to the Chair, at the beginning or during any meeting, any situation of actual or perceived conflicts of interest. This may result in the Member being excluded from discussion on the particular subject. The Chair reserves the right to request that the Member leaves the meeting room until a decision has been taken on the matter.
Advisory, expert and/or task and finish sub-groups
23. The Forum, upon initiative of the Chair, may set up advisory, expert, or task and finish sub-groups to support their work. Unless otherwise specified, such groups are bound to the same rules as the Forum.
24. Members will be asked to state their preferred language for conducting the business of the Forum. Work will be conducted in line with stated preferences and the provisions of the Welsh Language Act.
25. The Terms of Reference may be revised by the Chair after discussion by the Forum when and where appropriate.