Timothy Kirkhope: Regions must control Euro cash to drive the recovery

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MUCH has been made of the recent Open Europe opinion paper on regional funding and, in particular, its conclusion that we, in Yorkshire and the Humber, would be better-off without a European funding mechanism at all.

I do not agree with that contention and, in my comprehensive discussions over recent years with various organisations, businesses and leading politicians and policy formers, I am quite clear that the funding process, though flawed, is a vital ingredient in building future prosperity for our region.

Until the demise of the regional development agencies (including our own Yorkshire Forward), much of the channelling of funding, including the ERDF European Regional Development Fund, was controlled from the region itself. Those monies are now being directed from the Department of Communities and Local Government in Whitehall.

I have been pressing Government, both local and national, to get better co-ordination in funding distribution using our newly created LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) as the “front end” deliverers of resources.

Their legal status to do this must be confirmed as soon as possible. I am optimistic that we may be moving closer to achieving that and the views of the LEP chairmen in the Yorkshire Post on Tuesday are a very encouraging indicator of their enthusiasm to take on these tasks for the benefit of the region as a whole.

There are a not insignificant number of previously-funded organisations and businesses that have been in a dilemma as to how they could both apply for, and hope to receive, some funding towards useful and job-creating schemes.

They are among the small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that produce most of the new jobs that we need to see if economic recovery is going to happen soon for the benefit of all of us.

Achieving better co-ordination between those LEP leaders seems now to be achievable. It would certainly be extremely beneficial to my constituents and to those who seek to be considered for assistance now and in the future.

The Open Europe paper also misses a major point when it calls for an end to an EU-wide regional aid policy.

The development of the weaker economies in the EU must surely be a desirable objective for all of us in growing the vital markets for our goods and services, and there are numerous stories of businesses here benefiting from their trade with some of the newer EU member States where some of this aid is targeted.

A marketplace in Europe of 500 million people must be good for us as long as they have the resources to buy from us and we can reach them with our sales and marketing programmes. That is why European Regional Aid, properly administered, is so beneficial.

Of course, I have complained before about our own failures in the region to make the best of monies aimed to help us.

The “Objective One” monies which were available to assist economic regeneration in South Yorkshire were, arguably, not all spent well.

The failures to provide good programmes for spending, and the lack of support from the Labour Government to provide matched funds, meant monies probably being returned to Brussels which properly belonged to us. That was not very clever!

The summit meeting in Brussels, attended by David Cameron on Monday and primarily about the new fiscal disciplines needed for the Eurozone and its member states, also underlined the need, in a period of austerity, for all of us to make sure that public funds are spent wisely and productively with proper scrutiny, transparency, and accountability.

There also needs to be a more competitive and de-regulated atmosphere in which we can do business and provide opportunities for our citizens.

As EU funds are dispensed in Yorkshire and the Humber in future, those must be the criteria which control them.

* Timothy Kirkhope is the Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber and the European Conservatives and Reformists spokesman on Justice and Home Affairs.