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Regional Development

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 12 February 2009

4. What assessment he has made of the effect on the economy of EU regional development aid drawn down in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement. (256285)

The UK has already benefited to the tune of more than £5 billion in the 2000 to 2006 round of programmes. Final applications under the scheme are still being dealt with, and they are likely to increase that figure further.

In that case, why did Treasury Ministers turn down the offer of an extended package of European regional aid to all the UK’s poorest regions as part of an EU fiscal stimulus package? I note that Treasury Ministers accepted an extension to the regional aid package for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but failed to take up the offer of the package of support for the UK’s poorest region—Cornwall.

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Department for Communities and Local Government looked in detail at the possibilities, to determine whether the package would have a beneficial impact on the UK, including Cornwall. Having looked at the offer from the EU, the Department concluded that it had come too late and that it was too inflexible, in practice, for many programmes to be able to qualify. It would also have incurred significant extra cost and diverted resources from other key programmes. However, there are still applications in the pipeline for Cornwall—including grant funding to support the transition of Newquay airport from military to civilian use—which, if agreed, would increase the European regional development funding awarded to Cornwall county council from £11.7 million to £14.4 million.

In the past, did not North Yorkshire and Yorkshire and Humberside get substantial amounts of money from EU regional development funds? That money is no longer available, yet we are now funding huge cohesion funds for other European countries. Will the Minister stand up for the regions of this country to ensure that we get our fair share?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we support substantial investment in the UK regions. Clearly, the criteria for EU help for particular regions changes over time, which reflects the changing positions in the regions, not only in the UK but across Europe. She will know, as a fellow Yorkshire MP, that we have seen substantial growth and investment in the Yorkshire economy, and that the Yorkshire regional development agency, which gets substantial investment from the Government, has been critical in helping to support Yorkshire businesses through the downturn and through the pressures that we face. That is the kind of investment in the regions that we never had in the past, and there is a substantial difference between the way in which we are responding to this downturn and the way in which the Conservative Government responded in the 1980s.