Convergence cash boosting west Cornwall economy
MILLIONS of pounds have been pumped into west Cornwall over the past five years, giving a welcome boost to the future prospects of the local economy.
Around £32 million of European convergence funding has flooded into the area, allowing workers to gain new skills, give businesses the tools to expand their enterprises and students the facilities to stay in the county.
The cash will have far-reaching implications for Penwith, as organisations here continue to drive for success and stability.
"We have enormous potential," said Chris Pomfret, vice-chairman of the Convergence local management committee.
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"We are helping businesses to seize the opportunities they have locally, regionally, nationally and globally, and expand."
The Convergence European Regional Development Fund Programme began in 2007 and will run across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly until 2013. When it ends, the scheme will have given a £347 million shot in the arm to the area.
"We were given the money because we are one of the poorest parts of Europe," said Mr Pomfret. It is about trying to generate economic growth, to improve the lot of people living in Cornwall."
Locally, the money is being used to provide focused support for businesses to create better, quality, higher-paid jobs.
Mr Pomfret said part of his role with the programme is to guide where the cash is spent. He believes it should be shared not just between investments that will transform the economy but also with forward-thinking initiatives like the wave hub – the world's largest wave energy test site – in the waters off Hayle.
"We do not know what is going to happen but it is worth a try," he said, adding that he was keen for another pioneering scheme to be looked at.
"I would also put a lot more money in geothermal technology. Cornwall is better placed to provide it and if it worked would provide 20 per cent of the total energy requirement for the UK."
Among the ventures reaping rewards from Europe are Penwith College. The Penzance centre benefited from a £4 million convergence grant and used the money to increase higher education opportunities for those living locally.
Others given funding over recent years are Porthmeor Studios' restoration project, St Ives, which received £643,901 of convergence money; Hayle workspace infrastructure, with £4,999,896 of convergence cash to ignite the marine renewables sector; Superfast Cornwall, which benefited from £53 million to bring high-speed broadband to west Cornwall and the whole county; NaturalPaint Ltd, Hayle, which received £249,966.
"The funding has been great and it really does accelerate growth and helps you move forward faster," said Ross Harling, owner of NaturalPaint.
He spoke to The Cornishman while in Holland where he was talking with a 'major distributor' about exporting his environmentally friendly decorating paints.
"It enabled us to take on staff, to recruit specialists in to the company and to go out there with more confidence."
Although convergence comes to an end next year, the county is still in line for further years of European funding support.
"By the end of the next period in 2019 I would hope that Cornwall is no longer the poorest county in England," said Mr Pomfret.
"I think it is working because projects like Superfast Cornwall broadband and the wave hub are changing the image of Cornwall. Yes it is working but this is just the beginning. I think most of our problems will be solved."