The Strategic Forum for Regional Investment in Wales’ responsibilities and how it will work.
1. In November 2020 the Welsh Government published its Framework for Regional Investment in Wales (‘Framework’) proposing a model for regional, place-based economic development interventions in the future. It builds on three years of co-production with the Regional Investment for Wales Steering Group and supporting sub groups, a public consultation, and the 2020 OECD report into multi-level governance within Wales.
2. Since then the UK Government has implemented a range of initiatives in the regional investment space in Wales, despite economic development being a matter of devolved policy. This includes the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), launched in 2022 and with funds released in 2023, and its pilot the Community Renewal Fund in 2021; and the competitive Levelling Up Fund (LUF).
3. In none of these funds has the UK Government sought to create a co-decision-making role for the Welsh Government. Welsh Ministers believe that this bypasses the democratic accountability of the Welsh Government and the Senedd, and cuts across the devolution settlement.
4. With the exit of the UK from the European Union, investment in Wales has also been impacted by the loss of access to other funds historically supporting research and innovation such as the Horizon initiative, compounding the loss to the education sector and private business; and to rural development funding especially in the space of community-led local development, land management funding, green finance and innovative finance.
5. Welsh Government Ministers recognise the economic risks of a fragmented regional investment landscape, with no strategic oversight and divergent policies which do not deliver on the goals and ways of working we have in Wales. Welsh Ministers have made clear that Welsh Government resources will not be used to directly support the delivery of UK Government policies which do not respect the devolution settlement and which are poorly constructed enough to be damaging to the Welsh economy.
6. Difficult decisions around the funding of services and investment need to be made as a result of inflationary pressures, a cut to the Welsh budget in real terms, and the loss of £1.1 billion of replacement EU funding.Welsh Ministers are committed to working together to help local government and partners from the higher education, further education, other public, private and third sectors do the best we can under these difficult circumstances. Welsh Ministers will engage with the UK Government to protect the devolution settlement and the fairness of the UK economy, and to do what they can to limit the impacts where feasible.
7. As part of that commitment, the Welsh Government has worked with partners to create an arms-length Strategic Forum for Regional Investment in Wales (“Forum”). The Forum will be a platform for partners and the Welsh Government to work together to make the most of the regional investment funding coming to Wales.
Purpose of the Forum
8. This Forum provides a platform for members to share a strategic overview of regional investment in Wales, for the mutual benefit of all members.
9. The Forum is not a body for accountability, monitoring, or technical evaluation of processes and projects supported by the SPF or other UK schemes.
10. The Forum is an opportunity for members, including the Welsh Government, to:
- Continue to deploy the principles of the co-developed Framework for Regional Investment for Wales as the funding landscape continues to develop, and funding programmes are delivered.
- Share expertise, intelligence, lessons learnt and best practice to maximise the benefits to Wales of the funds being invested, including helping make the connections to mobilise partners towards delivery of projects under UK Government funding frameworks as they emerge.
- Assist Welsh local authorities in their delivery of UK investment funds, by leveraging members’ own networks to share progress, information, and feedback on those funds as they are administrated.
- Provide a link between members, and their organisations or those they represent, with:
a) The work of the OECD project supporting regional governance and public investment in Wales, ensuring that international best practice continues to influence regional development in Wales; and
b) The developing Agile Cymru programme, to lever international investment and opportunities into Wales.
- Leverage their own networks to contribute to the purposes of the Forum and drive the efficient and effect regional economic development of Wales.
- With the agreement of the Chair, invite presentation on relevant regional investment opportunities from the Welsh Government or other organisations. It will also directly inform advice to Welsh Ministers, helping to set the Welsh Government’s strategic response as developments arise.
11. It will also directly inform advice to Welsh Ministers, helping to set the Welsh Government’s strategic response as developments arise.
12. The agenda will cover the domestic and international landscape of regional investment in Wales, as it emerges. This includes the effects of the aftermath of the UK’s exit from the European Union, and the intent of the UK Government in this space.
13. The Forum will not be required to reach complete agreement between Members as a result of discussion, but instead the Forum is a platform for Members to test, co-develop and share their views and ideas. The Welsh Ministers will also participate in this collaborative approach, via the Secretariat and Ministerial involvement as appropriate.
14. The Welsh Government will report on progress in each area discussed, explaining where the advice from the Forum is reflected in Welsh Government positions, and reporting on and discussing reasons for the non-inclusion of any clear positions set out by the Forum.
15. The Forum may agree to convene smaller working groups to investigate and report on specific topics.
16. Members appointed to the Forum as representatives of bodies or umbrella organisations will be expected to discuss views and outcomes with their constituents, subject to potential restrictions on circulation of some papers (see below).
17. Members are also expected to use existing networks to ensure a wide range of views and ideas are brought to each meeting to inform discussions, and to help to achieve the purposes of the Forum.
18. It is expected that the same partners will be actively involved to ensure continuity and maintain expertise in the discussion.
19. To capture the appropriate range of expertise and opportunity, membership should include representation from:
- Regional leads in each of the four CJC regions
- Local Government officers, especially those leading on the UKSPF
- The four Regional Skills Partnerships
- The third sector
- Higher and further education sectors
- Natural resources and environment
- Rural interests and community-led development
- Private business
- Economic finance strategy
- Well-being economy
- Trades Unions
- Independent Equality and Human Rights advice, promotion, and protection
- Individuals with specific expertise e.g. academic
Duration, meetings, and papers
20. The Forum will be convened to help members manage the ongoing strategy and administration of regional investment funding in Wales. To help planning for the longer term, in the face of uncertainty over the development and delivery of UK investment funds, the Forum will have no set end date. Meetings will take place virtually.
21. Given the fluid nature of developments, the Forum will be reviewed in early 2024 after all EU-funded projects will have closed.
22. Discussion papers will be prepared by Welsh Government officials or by Members, where appropriate. Each paper will identify key issues, seeking a discussion on how Members can best collaborate to achieve the best outcomes for Wales. Members are encouraged to offer challenge and bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the debate.
23. Papers for the meeting will be issued seven days prior to the meeting where the proximity of developments makes this possible, and via electronic circulation. Members are expected to have read the papers prior to the meeting so that discussion can be informed without the need to cover the detail of the papers. This will help ensure the meeting duration is fully productive.
24. Papers will be clearly marked to identify the level of circulation that is appropriate. It is likely that papers can be freely circulated, but there may also be papers that will not be for publication or wider circulation than the Forum due to their potential sensitivity, and to allow a free and open debate on the options being discussed. In these instances a summary sheet of the issues will be included that can be used to help Members to consult with their constituents on related issues.
25. A summary of the discussion and actions agreed will be drafted by the Secretariat and circulated to Members within ten working days of the meeting. A version of this note will be published to aid transparency, alongside any non-restricted papers.
26. Members will not be remunerated for their time serving on the Forum. As meetings will be virtual, no travel and subsistence payments will be made available.
Conflicts of interest
27. Members are required to declare to the Chair, at the beginning or during any meeting, any situation of actual or perceived conflicts of interest. This may result in the Member being excluded from discussion on the particular subject. The Chair reserves the right to request that the Member leaves the meeting room until a decision has been taken on the matter.
Advisory, expert and/or task and finish sub-groups
28. The Forum, upon initiative of the Chair, may set up advisory, expert, or task and finish sub-groups to support their work. Unless otherwise specified, such groups are bound to the same rules as the Forum.
29. Members will be asked to state their preferred language for conducting the business of the Forum. Work will be conducted in line with stated preferences and the provisions of the Welsh Language Act.
30. The Terms of Reference may be revised by the Chair after discussion by the Forum when and where appropriate.