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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Throwing down the gauntlet

The problem with challenging Ministers to do something in Plenary sessions or Committees is that sometimes they will take up the invitation. So it was yesterday with David Davies on Communities First:

David Davies: Despite Communities First projects, there are still significant areas of poverty in Wales, including in rural areas such as Monmouthshire. Do you have any plans to visit Monmouthshire over the next few months, and, if so, will you allow me to show you the poverty that exists there?

Edwina Hart: I would be delighted to accept any invitation from the Assembly Member for Monmouth to visit the area.

As he sat down David muttered under his breath, "I suppose I will have to find somewhere for her to visit now."

One gauntlet that has been thrown down far too many times to mention since 1999 is the challenge to Ministers to justify the funding of the Government's Objective One programme. Yesterday was no exception, but Ieuan Wyn Jones' challenge was reinvigorated by documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. Nevertheless, there was a strong feeling of deja vu:

The Leader of the Opposition (Ieuan Wyn Jones): I think that you have acknowledged, Minister, that levels of economic inactivity are at their highest, and stubbornly high, in those areas where we should have benefited from Objective 1 funds. I would have expected, given the massive injection of over £1 billion during the period that you have indicated, that those areas would have benefited more substantially than you seem to suggest. We know that you were a key member of Alun Michael’s Government that was negotiating for those structural funds in 1999, during the time leading up to the vote of no confidence in Alun Michael, in January and February 2000. We regularly made the case that, in order to make the maximum use of Objective 1 funding, the European component had to be over and above the block and that there had to be additional funds for match funding. Now we hear that that was also Alun Michael’s view, because in a letter that he sent to Andrew Smith on 24 January 2000 he states: ‘we could then consider the additional match funding cover we need by way of an addition to the block.’ Did you agree with Alun Michael at the time?

Andrew Davies: It is interesting that Plaid Cymru is a party based in the past and is condemned to live in the past. You seem to be constantly rehearsing events of five or six years ago.

Presumably for next week's questions we will be reliving the Labour Leadership contest of 1999.
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