Regional Economic Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 13th February 2001.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 9:30 am, 13th February 2001

I am delighted to have secured this morning's debate on regional economic development, as it is important to my constituency and to many regions throughout the United Kingdom. It is disappointing that so few of them are represented here this morning. The debate provides a good opportunity to review the success of objective 1 in Cornwall--particularly from the perspective of my constituents in St. Ives, west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly--and the progress being made by the regional development agency. It is approaching its second birthday, so this is an appropriate time to review progress.

Credit must be given to many people for the significant progress that is being made. The Government should be credited for the progress being made on objective 1, for having the right idea, which was to establish more regionally based and devolved decision making on economic development, and for the establishment of regional development agencies. However, as I shall explain later, perhaps that was not appropriately executed.

Many people were falling over themselves to claim credit for securing objective 1 status for Cornwall--and, I believe, for the other three objective 1 regions in the UK--including the regional development agency, although it came along rather late in the day. I recollect that the regional chamber claimed credit for having achieved objective 1 status for Cornwall, when in fact it simply promised at a rather late stage not to get in the way. The political process was important, but at the end of the day the credit should go to the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, because they put up with an economy in need of regeneration for many years. The popular campaign mounted by local people raised the temperature of and the pressure on the political process and was key to securing objective 1 status.

It is clear that there has been significant progress since objective 1 started formally in July last year. I strongly congratulate the local community, local partnerships and the local objective 1 office. Last week, in its first year review, it showed that 36 projects had been approved so far, 88 others were advancing through the process and £30 million of objective 1 funding had been allocated so far. There is, therefore, no question of the Cornish level failing to support local initiatives. It is working well, despite obstacles. The purpose of this debate is not for me to say that everything is tickety-boo, as that would be a waste of time, but to draw attention to some of the significant obstacles that affect local people and local businesses. Many of those obstacles are not new--and are not to be placed at the door of the present Government--but have been affecting access to European structural funds for many years.

The first difficulty relates to the complexity that European structural funds inevitably involve, in the case of objective 1 and objective 2 areas and before Cornwall secured objective 1 status it related to objective 5b. Basically, there are at least three Government programmes--the European regional development fund, European agricultural guidance on the guarantee funds and the European social fund--all with different rules, different approaches and different application forms.

In order to draw down the money, one has to secure matched public funds and the responsible Government Department has to identify a range of Government and public sector funds, all with different application forms, deadlines, criteria and rules. That makes the process extremely complex. In addition, the rule on how and when a successful applicant can draw down the money makes the process even more complex and difficult.