Third time lucky for Objective One funding in Wales

You'd like to think that the officials and politicians overseeing Wales' third round of EU funding will have learnt enough by now to really make the money count.

I was a newspaper reporter in Wales back in the late 1990s when there was a lot of talk about Objective One funding and a lot of talk about transforming the Welsh economy as a result.

Admittedly, it was a different time.

It was the heady early days of devolution when there was probably more optimism around about beating the cycle of economic deprivation in many communities.

There's lots to be said about EU funding, but one thing we can say is that it didn't have the transformative impact on many of the communities it was supposed to help.

There appears to be general consensus on some of the key mistakes that were made in the early days.

The money was spread too thinly and there was not enough use made of the private sector.

Larger projects

Years ago I went to a community centre in the Heads of the Valleys which benefited from EU money.

In itself it was a great project for the local community and it was very difficult to criticise, but the question is whether investments like that led to the raising of economic prosperity in the long run. In too many communities I suspect the answer was no.

There has been significant change in the second round of funding.

Instead of small-scale community-based schemes, there is more of a focus on larger projects like the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road and the multi-million pound partnership with BT to roll out superfast broadband.

We can expect more of the same from now until 2020.

The actual size of the money also needs to be put into perspective.

£2bn over six years is just over £300m a year. Overall pubic expenditure is around £30bn a year so it's around one per cent.

That said, £2bn is still a significant amount of money and the point is it won't get sucked into existing budgets like health and education, it comes on top or to use the jargon give added value to public expenditure.

The Welsh government is in overall control of this spending. One problem it won't have is managing expectations.

In fact, the reverse is more likely to be true as it tries to persuade people that the money can make a difference and that this really can be the last time Wales is eligible for the funding.