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Cornwall: EU Structural Funds

Volume 754: debated on Thursday 19 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to enable the allocation of €590.4 million of European Union structural funds between 2014 and 2020 to Cornwall in accordance with their localism agenda.

My Lords, the people of Cornwall will be in charge of how their allocation of €590 million from European structural funds is spent. We are making the process for spending European structural funding money simpler, more flexible and more local than it has ever been. We are giving Cornwall more opportunities than before to decide what type of projects to fund and in which areas.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, when I read the consultation documents from the DCLG on the England operational programme for the ERDF, I saw nothing about this; I saw a lot of good words about devolvement, but it appears that Whitehall will make the decisions. Can she confirm that the Government will accept the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly structural and investment fund strategy? I think that she said that in her Answer, but I hope that she can confirm it.

My Lords, the thing for me to make clear to the noble Lord and the House is that, under the new ERDF programme which we are about the enter, Cornwall will retain everything that it has had or enjoyed in the past in terms of its authority and control of decisions. It is the only area to have its funding 100% ring-fenced. On the point that the noble Lord raised specifically on civil servants and decisions from Whitehall, the only decisions that will be taken by civil servants will be to ensure that the applications for funding are eligible within EU rules. However, all decisions about projects in Cornwall will be taken by the Cornish people.

My Lords, is the Minister happy with and encouraged by the progress of the local enterprise partnerships, particularly the local enterprise partnership that has looked into this great allocation of money from the European Union to ensure that it best serves what is now a new Cornwall, having had a status awarded by this Government to bring it in line with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Better together, I would have thought.

My noble friend is a great champion for Cornwall as she has great local connections there. I echo all her positive remarks about Cornwall and the LEP in the area, which is working hard to ensure a good deal for the Cornish people. That is what it is achieving, and it is doing it in a way that is in line with everything that we would expect from a LEP. That is good news.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the local enterprise partnerships have been very successful in Cornwall? This is the third stage of EU funding, and it would be wrong to withdraw it from Cornwall. The Minister says that the people of Cornwall will decide, but the structures in place are the ones that have ensured that 3,000 young people no longer leave Cornwall, because they can get higher education in Cornwall. That came from the first stage of funding. More than 25,000 jobs were also created. The local enterprise partnership is crucial. Can she confirm that the Government’s intention is not to dilute either the local enterprise partnership’s authority or responsibility but that it will be at the centre in deciding where the EU structural funding is spent?

I can confirm to the noble Baroness and to the House that the local enterprise partnership in Cornwall will be at the centre of the decisions made about how it will spend the European structural funding for Cornwall. The point which I need to keep re-emphasising to noble Lords is that the amount of control and autonomy held by the LEP—the shorthand form for this entity—is absolutely the same as that which existed for its predecessors. We will have a single programme for England as a whole, which means that on top of retaining all the authority it currently has, Cornwall will be in a much better position to benefit from other spending using these funds, which might be taken in other parts of England.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Minister’s statement that there will be that degree of autonomy outside of making sure that projects are eligible. That is quite reasonable. The programme, which is really important to the economic growth of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, should have started at the beginning of this year. When does my noble friend anticipate that it will start so that we can begin to invest in Cornwall and Scilly and really make that economy work?

We are on track now. The consultation on the England operational programme has concluded and we are absolutely on schedule to meet the deadline set by the European Union to submit that document. It is really important that we do not try to reopen the negotiations, which would delay us in meeting that deadline. Once we have gone through all the processes, the money will start flowing at the beginning of next year.

My Lords, the Cornwall Council website makes it clear that European funding has already made a huge economic and social impact on business and residents in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly thanks to the Objective 1 programme, and the convergence programme has delivered transformational projects such as the rollout of superfast fibre-optic broadband. It anticipates the benefits of the €592 million programme, to which my noble friend referred. Of course, that is part of a wider €6.2 billion ERDF and ESF programme for the UK as a whole. Are these programmes that the Government would wish to see preserved or changed under any renegotiation of the treaty?

As the noble Lord understands, we are about to enter this programme, which is for 2014 to 2020. Due to the Prime Minister’s effective negotiations in Europe, we have already cut the European budget and negotiated a much more streamlined use of these structural funds. We have done all that and protected Cornwall at the same time.