The UK Government has refused to answer a Freedom of Information request on how it scored Caerphilly County Borough when it decided to snub the area as a priority for new funding.
The Shared Prosperity Fund will be introduced next year and is set to replace EU funding that Wales has lost because of Brexit. A precursor to that is the £220m Community Renewal Fund and the UK Government has identified 100 priority areas – with Caerphilly County Borough missing out.
The fear is that while Caerphilly County Borough Council can still apply to the Community Renewal Fund it could miss out on the Shared Prosperity Fund because it has not been deemed a priority.
What is the Community Renewal Fund?
The Community Renewal Fund is a new £220m package provided by the UK Government.
It is a precursor to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – which will launch in 2022.
One hundred areas across the UK will benefit from the Community Renewal Fund – which will bypass Welsh Government and go straight to local councils.
Eleven council areas in Wales have been included in the funding. These are: Blaenau Gwent, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Conwy, Isle of Anglesey, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Swansea and Torfaen.
What is the UK Shared Prosperity Fund?
This fund will be launched in 2022, and is a replacement for European Commission development and social fund grants.
The UK Government has used a range of data to determine which areas are eligible for funding from the Community Renewal Fund. These factors include unemployment rates, population density, average household income, skills and the productivity of businesses based in each area.
Caerphilly Observer sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the government’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, asking how Caerphilly County Borough was scored.
The UK Government responded to this request on June 8, saying it would not provide the answer because “it is going to be published and it is reasonable not to make it available until then”.
While public bodies can use this exemption under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been known for such information to then not be published – in effect kicking the can down a never ending road.
The government did not state when Caerphilly’s scoring would be released, and said “it is not in the public interest to disclose this information at this time”.
In its response , the UK Government added: “The public interest in favour of not disclosing at this time, taking account of the intention to publish, is to allow the relevant officials and ministers time to make use of the information prior to publication as part of the decision-making process for the fund.
“It is important they are able to consider all the information for bids swiftly and without interruption in order to meet the stated deadlines of the fund.”
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“So much for transparency and open government”
Caerphilly’s Labour MP Wayne David hit out at the government for not disclosing the data. He said: “This is utterly disgraceful. So much for transparency and open government. This stinks to high heaven.
In a House of Commons debate on June 8, Mr David invited UK Government Minister Luke Hall to visit Bargoed “to see for himself” why the funding was needed in the area.
Conservative MP Mr Hall accepted the invite, and is set to visit Bargoed before the end of next month.
Mr David said: “Now that the UK Minister has agreed to come to Bargoed, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say for himself.
“I will be arranging for him to meet representatives of the Welsh Government, the local MS [Hefin David], the local authority, and members of the local community.
“The minister will also see for himself how Bargoed needs major investment and how funding must be made available for the town to be regenerated.”
Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member Delyth Jewell, who represents the South Wales East region, said: “I find it bizarre that the UK Government should claim that releasing the data wouldn’t be in the public interest, when their own website boasted of the fact that ‘any data used should be publicly available, so that the calculations behind our rankings are fully transparent’.”
She added: “The finest satirists of the land wouldn’t be able to make this up.”
In April, Ms Jewell wrote to UK Government minister Robert Jenrick, setting out calculations made by her staff, which showed Caerphilly should have scored highly against the criteria.
In the letter, Ms Jewell asked the minister to re-examine the calculations or make them public.
She said: “I have not received a reply to my letter, and the fact that the UK Government is now pressing ahead with deciding which areas will benefit from the fund before it releases the data makes a mockery of the whole process.
“If they have nothing to hide, they should publish the calculations, and do so now.”
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