Business chiefs on defensive over raw deal on jobs

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Yorkshire business leaders have defended their efforts to drive forward the regional economy as the Government insists funding is at last coming through from its flagship growth fund.

The Department for Business said yesterday that 11 schemes across the region have now received cash from the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) amid ongoing concern about delays in its administration.

The Yorkshire Post yesterday revealed that the region has secured less than half as many jobs as the North West or North East via the programme, which is designed to help business expand in areas deemed overly-dependent upon the public sector. Senior civil servants suggested businesses in Yorkshire had put forward fewer high-quality bids for the funding pot.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, business leaders in South Yorkshire said they accepted the region has not had its “fair share” of funding so far but blamed the Government for shifting the goalposts regarding what makes a successful bid.

“We have had mixed fortunes in the first two rounds of the Regional Growth Fund – although we did secure £18m for the Doncaster-Sheffield Airport link road,” said James Newman, chairman of Sheffield City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership.

“It’s probably fair to say that we haven’t had our fair share of the fund so far, because the rules seem to change from round to round.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to put this right this time round.”

Yorkshire had 31 bids accepted in the first two rounds of funding made available since the RGF was launched in 2010.

However, the fund has come in for severe criticism for the speed at which money has been distributed. As of February, only three of Yorkshire’s successful bidders had received their cash – with many having waited over a year.

The Government claims it has now addressed administrative problems and money is now flowing through, with 11 schemes in Yorkshire having received cash to date, including a renewable energy centre on the Humber.

“I think the Humber did quite well in the first two rounds,” said Richard Kendall, manager of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership.

National Audit Office figures show only 6,300 jobs will be created in Yorkshire from the first £1.4bn tranche of funding compared with more than 13,000 in the North West and more than 14,000 in the North East.

One key housing regeneration scheme in Hull has stalled after Housing Minister Grant Shapps intervened at the 11th hour over concerns about the number of homes being demolished.

Last week two other successful bidders dropped out part-way through the due diligence process – Zegen’s scheme to build a synthetic gas plant in Leeds, and T&N Plastics’ proposal for a new factory in Grimsby.

Neither firm has commented on why they pulled out.

Last night Labour renewed its attack on the Government for failing to adequately replace the regional development agencies after coming to power in 2010.

Rachel Reeves, the MP for Leeds West and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: “We feared that the Regional Growth Fund would prove a poor replacement for Yorkshire Forward, and these latest figures show that Yorkshire is missing out.

“The Regional Growth Fund is failing to deliver for Yorkshire, beset by delays, excessive costs and a haphazard bidding process.”

Mr Newman called on business across the region to ensure high-quality bids are submitted for the next round of funding, which closes next month.

“In round three, the Sheffield LEP will be submitting an innovative programme bid to unlock direct business investment in the region,” he said.