It was Michael Heseltine who proved that government action could help create the conditions for economic revival in the regions with major successes in areas like Docklands in London and in Liverpool. There were even policies at the time to encourage major manufacturers like Pall in Redruth to invest in Cornwall.
A successful regional policy is incredibly important to the far South West because action is needed to create new industries and higher paid jobs. In the last decade, the UK has largely contracted out regional economic policy to the EU. There have undoubtedly been some successes, particularly in Cornwall. The new university at Tremough and high speed broadband to name just two examples.
However, some EU programmes have been restrictive and employers in some sectors complain that they are not considered fashionable enough to qualify for grants. We must also remember that there is no such thing as EU money. Since 2007, Britain has paid in £30 billion towards EU structural funds and received just £9 billion back. We simply get some of our own money back. Analysis by Open Europe concludes that if we repatriated regional policy to the UK government, Cornwall could receive an extra £207 million in funding over the next seven years.
Some say they prefer the devil they know and are frightened of change. But this is no time to bury our heads in the sand. The EU is a declining institution. The euro is no longer a viable currency and will face further tests this year. Some EU leaders have even said that the collapse of the euro would mean the end of the EU. I don’t think that will happen but the EU will face major cuts to its budget. Here in the South West, we need contingency plans to protect our economic interests.
One idea is to put all the extra funding that Britain would have if structural funds were repatriated into a second pillar of the Regional Growth Fund specifically targeted at areas like Cornwall but with less bureaucracy. It’s an interesting idea which could be right for the future.