The cash that has to be spent

THE Government cannot argue that there has not been enough time to allocate money from a European fund which actually began operating as long ago as 2007.

Nor can it say that the money, intended to boost the British economy, cannot be used fruitfully. Indeed, according to Local Government Minister Don Foster, the European Regional Development Fund has so far provided more than 42,000 new jobs and more than 11,800 new businesses.

So for officials to be, in the words of Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts, ringing round councils, frantically trying to find schemes worthy of spending the money on before the end-of-year deadline is frankly absurd.

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At the moment, around £125m of Yorkshire’s share of the fund has still to be allocated and, unless it is spent by December, the money will have to be returned to Brussels, where it will be reduced by a third and then given to the Treasury.

At a time when businesses in the region are crying out for investment, this would be a wasted opportunity of ridiculous proportions. Yet, despite repeated Government assurances that all is well, time is now running out.

One reason for the problem, of course, is that for any scheme to get the go-ahead match funding has to be provided. Yet cash-strapped councils, now busily implementing the Government’s rigorous programme of cuts, are reluctant to sanction any new spending.

Another factor seems to be the transfer of responsibility from the regional development agencies, such as Yorkshire Forward – abolished by the coalition Government – to the Department for Communities and Local Government which, in spite of its name, does not actually seem to be very effective at dealing with local government.

It may well be the case that many members of this Conservative-led coalition would far rather have no dealings whatsoever with the European Union. But that is no reason to spurn the few gifts that Brussels actually provides.

Britain pays through the nose for its EU membership and, when some of that money is finally returned to this country, it should be spent promptly and efficiently.