THE BLOG

Mind the Gap

17/12/2014 10:35 GMT | Updated 15/02/2015 10:59 GMT

European funding might not be a regular topic of conversation over your breakfast table or in the pub. But when you look closely there are European funded projects all around us. In a region like the North East cash from the European Union (EU) is absolutely vital.

For 40 years, EU funded projects have helped grow our economy and bring new jobs to the region. EU funding was central to the physical regeneration of Newcastle and Gateshead's iconic Quayside. It's delivered a world class wind turbine blade testing facility at Blyth; putting the region at the cutting edge of this technology. In Middlesbrough there is a cluster of tech and creative businesses backed by European money. As well as these projects there are thousands more both big and small. EU funds matter to the UK and they matter in particular in the North East - and with £724 million at stake for the next 6 years, I'm keen to see the next round of projects support our young people into work and nurture up and coming industries and workplaces.

But first the Government must agree our spending plan with the European Commission in order to get these vital funds flowing. Unfortunately the Government hasn't come off too well in the negotiations. And it's all down to the Coalition government's mishandling of the situation, since the last round of funding was agreed.

Back then we had regional development agencies such as One North East. They worked to administer and oversee the funds and aligned them with regional growth strategies. They had democratic oversight and the involvement of local communities and interested parties.

Step forward a few years and we have a patchwork of 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), each with a totally different set-up. The Commission has signed off on the schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because in each of those places they have a Parliament or Assembly and a civil service.

In England we have a totally different situation. It has left the UK on the wrong side of the Commission's assurance process with them asking the UK; who are these LEPs? What democratic accountability do they have? Who appoints them and what authority do they have? The Government is struggling with the answers.

The other issue is that the 'r' word has been banned by politicians and civil servants are no longer allowed to say the word 'region'. Given that those civil servants are negotiating with the European Commission on how to implement the European Regional Development Fund there was always going to be a clashing of gears.

I don't really care too much about the negotiations between the Government and the Commission, I just want the Government to do its job and get the programme agreed. There are EU funded programmes which will grind to a halt if there is a gap in the funding. That would be damaging for our jobs and growth.

The Government needs to get its act together. The sooner the better.