Regional Economic Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:12 am on 13th February 2001.

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Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 10:12 am, 13th February 2001

I agree with my hon. Friend, who has anticipated my next point. That is why that is an important development, and without making any comment on the merits of the proposals, it is right that the views of local people on the alternative possibilities for the area are fully canvassed and should form part of the final decision as to what happens at South Crofty.

The hon. Member for St. Ives also talked substantially about objective 1, which was long overdue in Cornwall. The fact that Cornwall now has objective 1 status is testimony to the commitment of many groups and individuals mentioned by both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton. However, as my hon. Friend said, it is also testimony to the legacy that Cornwall has inherited and the serious economic and associated issues that need to be addressed.

I know that the hon. Member for St. Ives is concerned about the speed with which he feels that Cornwall's objective 1 programme is proceeding. Public grant schemes of this size rightly have conditions that must be met. Care is needed to ensure that the money is spent properly. We are accountable for those funds, and it is essential that we do not compromise the need to ensure that public funds are spent in an efficient value-for-money way. That may sound like a bureaucratic answer, but it needs to be stated. Large sums of money are involved and we have to account for them and make sure that they achieve our aims in the most effective way.

The progress that has been made in committing money is more than reasonable in Cornwall. The Cornwall and Scilly programmes made a good start. A total of £29 million in grant has been approved since the programme started in August 2000, and programmes to a grant value of £36 million are under appraisal. Together, that represents more than 20 per cent. of the programme's total allocation in its seven-year programme. That is a fairly rapid implementation, compared with other areas of the country that have benefited from EU funding.

The hon. Member for St. Ives is right to say that we need to cut unnecessary bureaucracy to an absolute minimum. However, we need to strike a balance between probity and value for money, and ensuring that the money gets spent and drawn down.

The hon. Member for St. Ives cited some specific examples of problems. If he writes to me with the details, we will certainly investigate whether they raise more general issues about where we could improve the process. I agree with a point that the hon. Gentleman made later in his speech, which to some extent cut across some of his other contentions. The proof of the pudding is not in the spending of the money or how quickly we spend it, but in getting the spending of the money right and being committed to programmes that will create sustainable change. Given that we are not much more than six months into a seven-year programme, I am not concerned at the moment that the process is far too slow.

The hon. Gentleman raised some points that I do not have time to deal with on the Hayle harbour and other issues. If he writes to me about them I will certainly reply as fully as I can.

In short, we are committed to helping every region, particularly the south-west, to address their long-standing economic problems. I believe that Cornwall has a lot going for it.