Brexit and the Rural Development Programme in Wales
Wales faced losing out financially in a no-deal scenario until UK Government extended its funding guarantee. Welsh Government now needs to improve oversight and scrutiny of the Programme
There was a significant risk of Wales losing out on funding in a ‘no deal’ Brexit deal scenario until the UK Government very recently extended the terms of its post-Brexit funding guarantee. A report published by the Auditor General for Wales, looks at how the Welsh Government has been managing the risks and opportunities posed by Brexit on the Rural Development Programme – which supports farmers, the countryside and rural communities.
Wales is eligible for around £522 million in European funding under the current round of rural development funding, which covers 2014-2020. The Welsh Government currently plans to contribute an additional £252 million, taking the overall value of the current programme to £774 million.
The report found that the Welsh Government has checks and balances in place to make sure it complies with strict EU rules. But, it calls on Welsh Government to strengthen its scrutiny and risk management of the overall Rural Development Programme and makes a number of recommendations to help achieve this.
The report also concludes that, while the future of agricultural funding post-Brexit is unclear, the Welsh Government is trying to shape debate and has set out what they want future arrangements to look like.
Even with the extension of the guarantee, the report says there are a number of issues the Department needs to continue to manage. For example, it needs to keep in view wider economic changes and adapt the Programme where necessary. It needs to increase the rates of commitment and spending in order to maximise the amount of EU funding that can be drawn down prior to Brexit. And, it should ensure that during the transition to any replacement for rural development funds, the Department’s expertise is retained, either in the replacement programme or in the wider Welsh public service.
The Auditor General, Adrian Crompton said:
“The Rural Development Programme provides much needed support to our farming and countryside communities – so I’m pleased that the UK Government’s decision to extend its guarantee has reduced what was a significant financial risk to the sector. Despite this guarantee, this remains an uncertain and fast changing area. The Welsh Government needs to strengthen its oversight and scrutiny of the Programme and be flexible and responsive.”