ColegauCymru is urgently calling for clarity from the UK Government in relation to the future implementation of the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) which is set to replace EU structural funds. The lack of confirmation on the replacement of this funding is hugely concerning for the further education and work-based learning sectors, and Wales more broadly.
At Questions to the First Minister on 10th November, Vikki Howells MS asked what discussions the Welsh Government has had with UK Ministers regarding the issue. She confirmed she had recently met with ColegauCymru to discuss the importance of the SPF to the future funding of skills and apprenticeships. Ms Howells highlighted that there is real concern that without replacement funding, it will be increasingly difficult for colleges to support local economics and wider society. She called on the First Minister to pass on the concerns of the Welsh FE sector to the UK Government.
First Minister Mark Drakeford MS responded confirming that minimum opportunities have been offered to discuss the SPF with UK Ministers, despite repeated requests to do so. The Welsh Government does not expect to be able to hold a discussion between now and the UK Spending Review on 25 November. The First Minister further added that negligible progress had been made despite citing various approaches to establishing meaningful dialogue.
Dai Lloyd MS on 11th November also spoke of the importance of the fund for FE colleges and asked what commitments Welsh Government had received from the UK Government on the future funding of skills and apprenticeships. Minister for European Transition, Jeremy Miles MS, responded that the Welsh Government was waiting for clarity and that he shared Dr Lloyd’s frustration, in addition highlighting the important impact of the Erasmus+ fund on vocational learners in Wales.
More than one month has now passed since ColegauCymru urgently requested a meeting with the Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart MP, to discuss the replacement of EU structural funds and the potential role of the UK Government in commissioning skills programmes in Wales. To date, no meeting has been arranged.
ColegauCymru Chief Executive Iestyn Davies said,
“Despite repeated requests to the UK Government to provide answers, we are still no clearer on a way forward. Wales has relied heavily on EU structural funds to support economic development, infrastructure, businesses and skills. The lack of clarity will not only have a detrimental effect on learners and FE colleges but on the wider economy and their respective communities as a whole”.
Mr Davies added,
“This state of limbo leaves many citizens of Wales with the view that the UK Government is not concerned about them, or their aspirations for employment and their ability to earn a meaningful wage through a rewarding career. The ongoing pandemic places the established challenges of skills and employability in stark relief and a further delay to publishing the plan, even for consultation, is inexcusable. We remain hugely concerned by the lack of attention paid by the Wales Office to this issue of replacement funding for programmes in adult education and skills.”