CONCERNS have been expressed that the Mid Wales Growth Deal is being driven by civil servants rather than politicians.
At a meeting of the Growing Mid Wales Board, members of both Powys and Ceredigion County Council were told that agreeing the full deal with both Welsh and UK Governments could take 12 to 18 months.
This follows the signing of the Heads of Terms agreement between both governments and both councils on December 22, 2020, which committed the Welsh and UK Government to the deal.
Growth Deal strategic manager, Carwyn Jones-Evans, explained that work would continue to put the portfolio business case together.
Part of this work would include “technical workshops” meetings between sets of civil servants from Mid Wales, and both Governments to explain what projects are likely to be put forward for investment.
Mr Jones-Evans said that the board and the Economic Strategy Group (ESG) which is made up of businesspeople and feeds its thoughts to the board would: “help shape it into the best it can be.”
Powys County Council leader, Councillor Rosemarie Harris, said:
“I’m concerned about the involvement of this joint board and the two cabinets and the two councils.
“The officers seem to be well on the way to talking about projects, and we have to be careful that we don’t lose sight of democracy here.
“I understood that we as two sets of cabinet members were making the decisions.
“We need to be a little bit careful, I understand that you can’t come to us with a blank sheet of paper, but I think at some point you have to take our ideas on board and those of the ESG as well.”
She asked when did the board have plans to talk to businesses to find out their ideas, and whether it would be possible to have joint projects such as one with Visit Wales to boost tourism in Mid Wales?
PCC’s Paul Griffiths, who works on the Deal, said that promoting the region for tourism was on the list of projects being considered.
Mr Griffiths said:
“In terms of business involvement, it’s about reaching the balance of giving encouragement and making sure that businesses feel that they have had an input into this.”
He added that the deal is at the “point of opening up” and there would need to be a communications strategy to get the wider business community aware, and involved with the deal.
Mr Griffiths added:
“We accept there is a degree of frustration about how long this all takes, we are very cautious about getting this right first time, and not needing to repeat the work.”
The Welsh and UK Government believe the Growth Deal has an “important part” to play in the recovery phase of the economy, after Covid-19.
The Mid-Wales Growth Deal was mooted by then Chancellor Philip Hammond in 2017 and was hoped to be worth as much as £200million.
In October 2019 the UK Government announced a £55 million injection of funding, spread over 15 years for the Mid Wales Growth Deal.
The Welsh Government will match the £55million, and it was hoped before the Covid-19 pandemic struck that another £55million would come from businesses in the region.