Page last updated at 22:38 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

350m boost for capital projects

Money
Nineteen projects will be included in the first round of funding

Hospital reorganisation, schools and affordable housing will all benefit from a new 350m fund, announced by the assembly government.

The cash, announced by Finance Minister Andrew Davies, is part of the Strategic Capital Investment Fund (SCIF), a new way of funding projects.

Mr Davies said 19 capital projects were included in the fund's first round.

Opposition parties have accused the minister of spin, as no projects have been fast tracked or brought forward.

Previously, Mr Davies said the assembly government was "busting a gut" to bring forward spending during the current economic downturn.

"Overall, these projects are expected to receive SCIF investment of around 350m, but this figure will be more than doubled with investment also coming in from existing departmental capital budgets, other parts of the public sector, and the private and voluntary sectors," Mr Davies said.

The projects are spread across six themes - regeneration, positive lifestyles, climate change, sustainable transport, resilience and skills.

The Welsh Assembly Government has announced how it will spend 350m on capital projects over the next three years.

An initial 50m of the money is to be spent in this financial year, but none of the projects have received final approval.

The 350m includes 70m towards an investment to improve hospital services in Swansea, 42m to provide an estimated 500 new affordable homes across Wales, 47m for rail infrastructure and improvements, and 24m for three schools to be built in Wrexham, Newport and Blaenavon.

But, under the resilience theme, the fund also earmarks 59m to be spent preparing Wales ahead of a possible flu pandemic and 3m for hazard area response teams who would be involved in responding to chemical or biological incidents.

Mr Davies also announced 12m would be spent on transforming the Heads of the Valleys into a low-carbon region.

One Wales document

He said Tuesday's announcements were "the result of some tough decisions, reflecting the challenging times in which we are now operating."

The minister said the assembly government's approach "will ensure that we are best placed to use our resources strategically and imaginatively, and that we maximise the benefit of every Welsh pound for the people of Wales - helping people where it matters most."

Earlier, Mr Davies said the fund, set up last December, was a new way of the assembly government deciding spending priorities.

"This is the result of an internal process whereby ministers have put bids to me and my colleagues and then we have collectively made this decision which I am announcing today."

Asked if in the past spending has been "unstrategic", Mr Davies said: "I think that's something we've accepted for some time, that's why the proposal to set up the fund has been accepted by everybody.

'Smoke and mirrors'

"This was why the commitment to do this was in the One Wales document [which formed the basis of the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition assembly government] and as finance minister I've been taking it forward and leading on it."

However, Nick Bourne, Conservative leader in the Welsh assembly, said: "There's no new money, it's smoke and mirrors to try and make it look as if it's new money.

"So I have to say I'm deeply disappointed looking at it, because it's certainly tried to create the impression that here was some new exciting, capital schemes and it's no such thing.

"In fact all the assembly government is doing is bringing forward an announcement rather than bringing forward the money."

Welsh Liberal Democrat finance spokesperson Jenny Randerson AM said: "Despite some warm words about consultation and discussion, this final budget still contains no extra money to keep council tax rises low.

'Reviving'

"That is a disappointment to me, but will be a greater disappointment to the people of Wales come the spring when their council tax bills arrive.

"The Labour-Plaid government had a golden opportunity to put some money back in people's pockets - it has failed."

Community Housing Cymru welcomed the 42m for affordable housing

Chief Executive Nick Bennett said: "This announcement is a double dose of good news for Wales, good news for accelerating the rate by which we can produce more social housing for people in need and also good news for reviving the Welsh economy."

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