Bidders Await Decisions on Convergence Aid

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), February 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

Bidders Await Decisions on Convergence Aid


Byline: Martin Shipton Chief Reporter

NOT a single project has yet been approved under the second round of top-level European aid for Wales, it has been confirmed.

Officially, the Convergence programme for West Wales and the Valleys - a region covering the poorest two thirds of Wales - was due to begin in January 2007, but 13 months later hundreds of proposals are still under consideration.

The Convergence programme follows on from the Objective One programme, which ran from 2000 until the end of 2006. Both schemes are meant to improve economic performance in the region, which qualified for a second round of top tier funding as one of the EU's poorest despite the accession of low income countries in eastern Europe.

The Western Mail has become aware of widespread frustration among groups that have applied for Convergence funding. None are prepared to be identified because they fear their criticism would not be appreciated by the Assembly Government, whose Welsh European Funding Office (Wefo) decides which schemes are approved.

The chief executive of one organisation which is waiting to hear whether its application for funding has been successful said, "Under the EU's Lisbon agenda, which is geared to job creation and growth, 25,000 jobs are supposed to be created during the course of the Convergence programme.

"Obviously, the longer these applications are delayed, the harder it will be to reach the target.

"Until approval is given, none of the projects can get going. In some cases, where the Convergence programme is carrying on from Objective One, there is the very real prospect of lay-offs.

"Because of the delays, there is already an impact on the Welsh economy.

"Why has it taken so long to get things going? Has it got anything to do with the delay over the summer in getting a coalition agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru?

"Were people taking their eyes off the ball? Surely the civil servants should have been pressing on regardless."

The Convergence programmes comprise funding from two separate European Structural Funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). …

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