Analysis: Could EU spending in Yorkshire help swing votes?

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IT is hard to spend any time in Yorkshire without coming across a European Union flag on a sign reminding you that something was built with its financial support.

From the £10m invested in Sheffield University’s Factory 2050 advanced manufacturing facility to the £15m handed to Screen Yorkshire to encourage film and television production, EU cash is found across the region’s business, universities and arts sectors.

With the distribution of EU cash heavily weighted to areas that have historically struggled economically, Yorkshire has been a significant beneficiary.

Recent figures from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute showed the big regional differences on EU funding with Yorkshire set to receive £114 per head through so-called ‘structural funds’ to help the economy compared with £25 per head in the South East in the current funding round.

With one of the key questions asked by voters being how the EU benefits them, Remain campaigners hope the history of European investment will convince people in areas like Yorkshire to back staying.

Linda McAvan, one of Yorkshire’s Labour MEPs, said: “One of my first jobs was to work in the Coalfields Communities Campaign in Barnsley. We were a national campaign for coalmining areas and we lobbied the European Union to give us funding to help regrow jobs after the mines closed.

“To be honest at the time our government said no it wasn’t prepared to help. The European Union said yes we will and they gave us millions and millions of pounds and that millions of pounds is all around us.

“You can’t go very far in parts of South Yorkshire without coming across things funded through the European Union.

“Walk around the centre of Barnsley, the new station all the new public works, walk around the middle of Sheffield the theatres, Millennium Galleries, City Hall.

“The other thing people might not know is our universities receive funding which helps them with their research but it also brings some of the best brains to our cities.

“The four top research universities in Yorkshire, the White Rose Group, Hull, York, Sheffield and Leeds, they get a lot of money from the EU and they attract the best researchers.”

But the question of EU funding also goes to the heart of the Leave campaign which argues that the UK essentially sends money to Brussels only to get some of it back again with strings attached.

Critics of EU funding also argue that it is a bureaucratic process as projects have to meet narrow criteria to qualify and match-funding from other sources is often required.

And the future direction of spending of EU cash may also help Leave persuade Yorkshire it has less to lose by voting to cut ties with Brussels than it might have done in previous years.

While in the last funding round, Yorkshire was fourth in the list of UK regions and nations receiving EU cash to support the economy, in the current round it has fallen to eighth.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all controversially received in increase in funding as a result of decisions made by the UK Government while Yorkshire’s EU support was cut.

Conservative Yorkshire MEP Amjad Bashir said: “We pay a lot of money to the EU, it’s going on for £19bn a year, money that’s ours. We get some of it back, a fraction of it back, and we are told how much and where we can spend that money.

“I’m a businessman and my belief has always been to cut out the middle man.

“Why don’t we keep all of our money and spend it on our people, spend it in Yorkshire. Economically we are doing very well as a country but there are parts of Yorkshire that are in deprivation.

“We need to help these brothers and sisters of ours we need to spend money on them whether it is in apprenticeships, whether it is in education, whether it is vocational training or infrastructure.

Mr Bashir added: “Why should we have to rely on money from others? I think we will do a far better job keeping our own money and spending it where we need it.”