Regions fail to feel the benefit

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it was only last month that Nick Clegg was singing the praises of the Regional Growth Fund, insisting that this region was seeing major benefits and that the fund was ensuring that a sustainable, nationwide recovery.

it was only last month that Nick Clegg was singing the praises of the Regional Growth Fund, insisting that this region was seeing major benefits and that the fund was ensuring that a sustainable, nationwide recovery.

The verdict of Parliament, however, tells a somewhat different story. For, while a large amount of money has been pouring into the fund, very little has actually reached businesses, according to the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

As a result, if it is to hit its spending targets, the fund must spend £1.4bn by the end of this financial year, a huge task considering that it has only managed to disperse £1.2bn over the previous three years.

The prospect therefore emerges of a crazed dash to get rid of cash without schemes being properly assessed. This is an all-too-likely scenario, in fact, given the confusion that has enveloped the fund since its inception four years ago.

Indeed, perhaps the most damning aspect of today’s report is the fact that many of the problems were first identified in the MPs’ first report two years ago, including the fact that too little funding was actually reaching businesses with much of it parked with intermediaries such as banks and local authorities.

It is deeply worrying that such little progress has been made in tackling these logjams, particularly when these intermediaries are soaking up money themselves in hefty administration costs.

Considering that the growth fund is a central part of the complex web of initiatives set up to replace regional development agencies – themselves scrapped for waste and inefficiency – this verdict is particularly disheartening.

The coalition should be congratulated for helping Britain to return to growth. But there is a real danger that spreading the benefits around the regions is being seriously hampered by such poor management of the Regional Growth Fund.

Slowing down

20mph zones must be flexible

THE INTRODUCTION of 20mph speed limits can be relied on to gain the support of pedestrians and provoke the antagonism of drivers in equal measure.

But surely one thing on which both sides of the debate should be able to agree is that speed restrictions should only be introduced with the full co-operation of those who live in the area affected.

So it is no surprise that 70 per cent of drivers believe that residents should be properly consulted before 20mph limits are brought in, according to an AA/Populus survey of nearly 25,000 motorists.

Clearly, if such limits are deemed to save lives, if they mean that children can walk more safely to and from school, then they should be introduced wherever necessary. But each area has its own individual characteristics and it may well be, for instance, that a 20mph zone is appropriate for one road only at certain times, or that another street would benefit from a different type of restriction.

A flexible approach, according to the wishes of those most directly affected, therefore, is far preferable to a blanket restriction imposed without taking residents’ views into account.

As important as the policy’s democratic legitimacy, however, is its enforcement. There is no point whatsoever in spending vast sums of money erecting signs and painting lines on residential roads around the country if drivers are routinely allowed to ignore them.

For it must be remembered that the effect of 20mph zones is to save lives, not merely to give policymakers another opportunity to feel pleased with themselves.

The pride of Hull

Can the Tigers tame Arsenal?

THESE are heady times for the city of Kingston upon Hull. The port that has often seemed like a forgotten outpost on the Yorkshire coast is finally in the spotlight as never before.

Not only is the city’s rich artistic life being belatedly recognised with its designation as UK City of Culture 2017, but Hull also stands on the verge of a new commercial future as green investment begins to pour into the port and the Humber estuary prepares to become home to Britain’s offshore wind industry.

Of much more immediate importance, however, is a certain football match tomorrow which will see the city’s residents descend on North London in their thousands for what is, quite simply, the biggest day in the history of Hull City AFC.

The glory of Wembley beckons for the Tigers as they take on Arsenal in their first FA Cup final. And it must surely be the fervent wish of all in Yorkshire that, come tomorrow evening, the county’s eastern outpost has yet another reason to stand proud.