Why the EU can work for region

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FOR ONCE, the European Union is not to blame over the misuse of funds that were intended to assist with the economic regeneration of South Yorkshire – one of the most deprived regions in Europe. The fault rests entirely with Downing Street and the indefensible decision to divert EU cash to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that was originally intended for this county as well as Merseyside.

No wonder the Tories, and the Liberal Democrats, are so bereft of electoral support in South Yorkshire – what do they expect after pulling a stunt like this to appease the Scots prior to the referendum vote on independence?

It can only be hoped that the UK Supreme Court 
rules in favours of the English regions – and that this legal dispute does not delay the delivery of the next tranche of regeneration funding from Brussels that could be worth up to £600m to Yorkshire alone. EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn’s assurances on this in today’s newspaper are encouraging.

Yet this wrangle will also do the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats no favours whatsoever when it comes to convincing voters about the merits of Britain staying in the European Union if David Cameron can deliver on his promise of a referendum in 2017.

They’re likely to view this as further evidence of EU waste and mismanagement when, in fact, the funding streams in question have helped, for example, to fund the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Institute – a scheme critical to helping businesses embrace new technology.

As such, it can only be hoped that this dispute is resolved as quickly as possible so that the UK Government and the European Union can bring even more focus to the most important issue – the development of plans that will act as a catalyst for new jobs, and which will also complement Mr Cameron’s social mobility agenda.

The public interest

Abuse cases need prioritising

THE length of time that West Yorkshire Police keeps suspects on bail in regard to allegations of child sex abuse needs to be seen through one prism – Rotherham. This scandal is the benchmark that all constabularies will now be measured against after South Yorkshire force’s woefully inadequate response to the sexual grooming of young girls on an industrial scale.

The vacuum created by the indifference shown by South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council was ruthlessly exploited by those who were abusing some of the most vulnerable members of society. As such, there will be concern at the number of suspects who have been on bail for more than six months while detectives in West Yorkshire pursue their investigations.

These cases are not easy to solve – the gathering of corroborative evidence is invariably laborious. Many people will also be surprised to learn that the force detains 105,000 suspected criminals every year, and that this creates unforeseen pressures. Yet, if lessons from Rotherham are to be learned, the public interest demands that staff shortages, or other financial restraints, do not stand in the way of the thorough investigation of all abuse allegations.

The onus is therefore on each and every police force to send out the strongest possible message that child sex grooming will not be tolerated under any circumstances. As the 1,400 youngsters let down by the authorities in Rotherham will testify, doing nothing – or hoping the complaints will vanish into thin air – is a betrayal of all those individuals who will have to live with the consequences of the police’s inertia until their dying days.

Food for thought

Balancing act on the high street

WITH food inflation at an all-time low, and supermarkets like Asda and Morrisons intensifying their price war, shoppers will benefit from even more competitive prices in the run up to Christmas.

However spare a thought for those independent shops which cannot compete with the major retailers – and the challenges that this is posing in towns like Knaresborough and Ripon.

Both, according to Harrogate Borough Council, need to attract larger chain stores if their respective high streets are to prosper in the longer term. Both, however, are fearful of pursuing a retail strategy that compromises the viability of those smaller shops that invariably have a rich history.

It is a proverbial catch-22 situation that highlights the need for evolution rather than revolution – the template behind Skipton’s success. Reminiscing about the golden age of high streets will, unfortunately, only make matters worse – towns need to look to the future to thrive.