Hands off our Euro funding
Devon should continue to receive European funding so that it is not put at a disadvantage to neighbouring Cornwall, a Westcountry delegation has told officials in Brussels.
Representatives from local authorities in Devon joined those from other regions in receipt of transition funding to lobby for its continuation when European budget meetings are held next month.
Delegates from Cornwall also attended to press for greater freedom from UK government controls on how European funds are administered.
Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have already secured another round of higher-level funding after figures earlier this year revealed that its GDP is 71.9% of the European average – below the 75% threshold that sees the area in line for seven more years of help, worth an estimated £410 million.
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A category of regions "in transition", which have a GDP between 75% and 90% of the EU average, stand to get funding but not on the same scale.
Devon has previously qualified for this transition funding, which has meant that poorer parts of the county such as Torbay and North Devon have received European funding aimed at boosting their economies.
Devon's output stands at 86.5% but with most European countries now in prolonged recessions and expensive bail out programmes required by countries such as Greece and Portugal there is massive pressure on the next European budget.
This has led to talk of an uneven playing field between Devon and Cornwall and fears that businesses – particularly those based in poorer areas such as North Devon – could be tempted to cross the Tamar in search of additional grants and business support.
"There is a stark contrast between Torridge and Cornwall," said Councillor Will Mumford, Devon County Council's cabinet member for economic regeneration and strategic planning.
Currently, it is estimated that Convergence funding gives Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly an economic uplift of £1,120 per head, with Devon at its current level of transition funding receiving £118 per head.
There are also concerns that, even if transition funding is maintained, there could be changes in the way it is distributed, with a proposal to give the UK government a greater role in allocating the money.
Mr Mumford warned that this could also see the South West miss out.
"We have seen with the Regional Growth Fund that the South West does extremely poorly while a huge amount of funding goes to the North when there are pockets of deprivation in the South West that are just as bad," he said. "We need to be much better about banging our own drum."
The Westcountry delegation yesterday met with European politicians and the Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, to lobby for continued support for transition areas.
When the representatives return, there are plans to lobby UK politicians to press the case for continued support for Europe – despite competing domestic priorities.
"We need to transfer the focus to UK politicians to make sure that they really understand the scale of the fiscal cliff that will exist between less developed regions and the rest of the country," said Mr Mumford.
"Everyone understands the extreme fiscal pressure, but you're not going to cut your way out of recession – you have to invest to grow as well."
Cornwall Councillor Edwina Hannaford said she had lobbied for a reduced role for government departments such as Defra and the Department for Work and Pensions in the administration of European funds for the Duchy.
"Cornwall is in a unique position with opportunities and challenges," she said. "We have vast experience of delivering structural funds – let us get on with it."
South West MEP Graham Watson said: "It is important for the UK government to recognise that European funding is important to areas like Cornwall and Devon and that the more the Prime Minister talks about wanting to reduce EU funding, the more we are risking and damaging the many successful schemes in our area."