THE criteria behind the Regional Growth Fund, one of the many schemes launched by the Government to kickstart the economy, is simple – successful projects must create new jobs in areas previously over-dependent on the public sector.
On this basis, Yorkshire should qualify. It is a shortage of private enterprise, and an over-reliance on publicly-funded bodies, that leaves this region placed – once again – on the wrong side of the North-South divide.
Yet, despite the scheme’s merits being championed by both David Cameron and Nick Clegg, both men have still to convince this region that this scheme – one also allied to local enterprise partnerships and directly-elected mayors – is an adequate substitute for the abolition of regional development agencies like Yorkshire Forward.
After all, only four RGF schemes in this region are in possession of their funding, despite jobless levels being amongst the highest in Britain. While due diligence is vital, the pace of these initiatives needs to be accelerated.
This unease is further exacerbated by the funding challenges now being encountered by Welcome to Yorkshire, one of this region’s genuine success stories. Its foresight, prior to its budget being cut, saw the value of tourism to Yorkshire increase to £8bn a year – a remarkable achievement, and one which saw the agency maximise the funding at its disposal.
Yet, in order to maintain visitor numbers, and therefore jobs in the region’s rural heartlands, Welcome to Yorkshire needs access to alternative funding sources to avoid its rivals, like Scotland, stealing a march because its marketeers do not have to jump through so many political hoops.
Alas, it appears the RGF is not open to them, ostensibly because its tourism work transcends both prosperous and less well-off areas. It is a typically short-sighted decision which ignores the harsh fact that poverty transcends urban and rural areas.
However, in an ideal world, tourism should not be having to enter a bidding war to land money from a fund that is taking time to deliver results.
It is an issue that needs to be addressed both regionally and nationally – regionally because the whole county benefits from a thriving Welcome to Yorkshire and nationally because it is attractions here which inspire people from around over the world to visit Britain.