Wales politics

Labour claim anti-poverty scheme 'only safe with us'

Plas Madoc Estate near Wrexham
Image caption Millions has been spent on regenerating deprived Communities First areas

Labour says its flagship anti-poverty scheme would be at risk if it is voted out of office in the Welsh assembly election.

Plaid Cymru denied it would scrap the Communities First project and accused Labour of smears.

And the Conservatives said Labour had failed to meet its pledges on tackling child poverty.

A committee of AMs last year questioned whether the £214m spent on the scheme had delivered value for money.

It offers money to local groups in deprived communities so they can run their own regeneration projects.

First Minister Carwyn Jones defended the scheme in February last year when the assembly's cross-party public accounts committee said Communities First "has not delivered good value for the significant amount of public money spent on it".

Campaigning for the election on 5 May, Labour said the 10-year-old scheme put power and resources in the hands of local people.

Candidates visited areas receiving support through the scheme when they hit the election trail on Tuesday.

Social justice spokesman Carl Sargeant, Labour's Alyn and Deeside candidate, warned about Plaid and the Conservatives forming a coalition after election day.

Plaid has said it would be difficult to talk to the Tories because of the actions of the UK government.

Mr Sargeant said: "While Plaid Cymru is spending its time cwtching (snuggling) up with the Conservatives, one thing is certain if a deal is made - we can kiss goodbye to the Communities First programme that has helped lift so many deprived areas out of poverty."

Plaid said it had never called for the abolition of Communities First.

"This is an underhand smear by a tired, out-of-touch Labour Party, obsessed with the current bureaucratic top-down scheme," a party spokesman said.

He said Plaid would "reform Communities First, slashing bureaucracy and focusing support on community-led initiatives that can show clear outcomes".

"It's now widely accepted that Communities First, under a lack of leadership from Labour, has failed miserably to achieve what it set out to do. Labour set no benchmarks, no targets and no real clearly defined parameters."

Tory assembly leader Nick Bourne said: "Despite promises to halve child poverty by 2010, after 12 years of Labour Wales has the highest rate of children living in severe poverty in the UK.

"Labour has failed to reform Communities First to improve living standards for the poorest people in our society.

'Appalling record'

"Welsh communities cannot afford another five years of Labour."

Some 200,000 children in Wales are classed as poor - living on an income of less than 60% of the median. The proportion of children in poverty fell between 1997-98 and 2003-04 to 28%, but has now risen to 32%. This compares to 31% for the UK.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Cardiff Central candidate Nigel Howells said: "Labour have spent 12 years talking about getting people out of poverty.

"They are still talking but they have no new ideas to offer.

"Under Labour and Plaid's period in government, the number of children living in poverty and severe poverty increased. They are in no position to lecture anyone with this appalling record."

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