Friday, January 26, 2007

Tir Mynydd Headache

As the only Conservative backbencher, and facing the prospect of ejection from the National Assembly next May (if Tories have a good election result that is) I can reasonably say that my chances of becoming Minister for anything are about as near to zero as it is possible to get. So I can think aloud about what I would do about the knotty problem of Tir Mynydd without there being any danger of some 'Smart Alec' digging into this post and reciting it back to me after next May, when the Minister will have to finally decide.

The issue is the most difficult that I have faced as Chair of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee. Let me explain what has happened. During the shenanigans about the Assembly Budget it was decided that the EPC Minister's budget for next year was not acceptable, and that the Committee should 'reprioritise' the relevant budget line to allow for an increase in the amount of cash for Tir Mynydd, a socio-economic grant scheme for upland farmers - from £22 million to something nearer to £36 million. But there was to be no extra money - so we are looking for approaching £14 million from other spending plans for next year, and for several years after that. And the issue is further complicated by EU rules.

As Minister, I do not believe that I would have any choice, because of the position all opposition parties have taken over the last few months, but to increase Tir Mynydd to at least £30 million - and the only way to find this sort of money would be by accepting fewer applications for other schemes such as Tir Cynnal and Tir Gofal. (Some bits and pieces can be found elsewhere). I would be very unhappy about this because it would have a negative impact on the environment - but a committment is a committment. However I would immediately explore how I could make the extra Tir Mynydd cash payable for some evironmental enhancement - and I would instuct my civil servants to look at whether the Tir Mynydd and Tir Cynnal Schemes could be merged. I would expect this to be the only way to make my changed priorities acceptable to the EU - which it would have to be.

The Feb 7th Committee discussion will be tough and I will try to find some common ground - but I do not expect the Minister or the Labour members to move much from the current priorities, because they have consistantly said they believe it is right. And all of the huffing and puffing could be for nothing anyway, because an incoming Government could reverse any of our changes after the election.

I hope you are a bit wiser about Tir Mynydd - but somehow I doubt it.

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