Examination of Witnesses (Questions 57-59)
RT HON PAUL MURPHY MP, MRS ROS DUNN, MR ANDREW BAYER, MR JOHN NEVE, RT HON RHODRI MORGAN AM, MR DEREK JONES AND MR JOHN CLARKE
MONDAY 21 JANUARY 2002
57. Order, order. Welcome, everyone, to this session of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. The reason I am the walking wounded is that I had a road traffic accident last night. It is quite a coincidence that the last time that the First Secretary of the Assembly gave evidence before the Committee there were floods and I was half an hour late. I am beginning to wonder whether there is something at work here. However, I have managed to make it and I am very grateful for Volvo and air bags. As it is your patch, Rhodri, (and I will adopt the first name terms of the Assembly) would you start by explaining the roles of the Assembly and each of the Assembly's Departments in delivering Objective 1. Paul, perhaps you would do the same with your Department. Perhaps, Rhodri, you could start by introducing your officials.
(Mr Morgan) Paul and I agreed that he would introduce his side first.
58. Far be it from me to override you!
(Mr Murphy) Martyn, may I first of all say I am delighted that you have come through the scrape because clearly it was a pretty horrendous experience last night and obviously our sympathies are with you on that; we are glad it was not worse. Can I introduce my colleagues to my left? Ros Dunn is the Head of the Devolved Countries and Regions Team in HM Treasury. John Neve is the Director of the Regional European Funds and Devolution Office of the DTI, and Andrew Bayer is John's deputy there.
(Mr Morgan) On my side I have Derek Jones, Director of Economic Development immediately on my right, and on his right John Clarke, Chief Executive of the Welsh European Funding Office. Perhaps I could say a few very brief words about that because it follows on naturally from reference to John Clarke, that the overseeing of the programmes is done by the Programme Monitoring Committee and the administration of the programmes is done by the Welsh European Funding Office. It is confusing but we think a fundamentally honest system. In the Welsh European Funding Office they are all civil servants. How many have you got now, John? Over a hundred?
(Mr Clarke) One hundred and fifty.
(Mr Morgan) They are the successor body of the old Wales European Programme Executive who were not civil servants, they were a hybrid body, but we believed it was better to take it on on a Civil Service basis which means that there is no charge then being made to the applicants as there was in the old WEPE system as a hybrid body whereby every applicant had to pay a levy to cover the administrative costs. We meet the administrative costs of having 150 civil servants because they are on our strength as civil servants and therefore there are no administrative costs. What is confusing about it is that people assume that because they are civil servants it is the Assembly as a Government body that administers the programme. That is not allowed under European rules. It is much clearer in England because you have got discrete areasSouth Yorkshire, Merseyside and Cornwall. They clearly are only a very small proportion, about six or seven per cent, of the population of England, whereas we are talking about 65 per cent of the population of Wales and sometimes people think that this is done by a Government department. It is not allowed to be Government-administered. It is a partnership exactly the same as in England, but it looks different because it is two-thirds of Wales and not six per cent as it is in England and is run by civil servants. They are civil servants who are not responsible to a minister in the way that civil servants normally are. They are responsible to the Programme Monitoring Committee which has oversight of them and the Programme Monitoring Committee is chaired by either the Minister for Economic Development or his or her nominee. It was me originally and then I passed that on 18 months ago, in October 2000, to Christine Chapman, who is my nominee, to chair it. That is another obligation under the European rules. I think that is about as much introduction as I would want to do now.
59. Thank you. Can I ask you all how well do you think the relationships between the Assembly and the UK Government departments and between the different UK Government departments are working?
(Mr Murphy) My role and the role of the Wales Office in all this was obviously in terms of the negotiation of the Spending Review and of the block grant. I know we will come to those issues later but that was the main role that my office had in this, and to be able to explain to my colleagues in Government the huge importance of Objective 1 structural funding to the people of Wales. As Rhodri has said, because it covers 65 per cent of our population, two-thirds of our land mass I guess, it is a unique situation in Wales. That was my important and primary role. However, it would be useful if Ros and John and Andrew were to comment upon how they see the relationship between UK Government departments in the operation of structural funds and also in how they relate to Wales as well.
(Mrs Dunn) I think it is important to be clear about the role of the Treasury in the detailed operation of the structural funds, which actually does not really exist. We have no direct responsibility for the operations of the programmes. We have, however, a corresponding responsibility to the Secretary of State for Wales in the conduct of the Spending Review and it is perhaps better if we wait until we get to that to cover that in more detail.
(Mr Neve) The DTI has overall responsibility for policy towards the structural funds. We also co-ordinate on the implementation. We have a good working relationship with all the Government departments involved and we also have a good and close working relationship with the devolved administrations and with the English regions and the English programmes. Our overall position is that the present system of co-ordination and communication works well.