Monday 20 August 2012

European Regional Development Funds

The BBC Radio 4 programme, File on 4, had an episode on the European Regional Development Funds recently. I'd recommend it - you can listen to it here. (Since it's BBC radio it's accessible outside of the UK, unlike TV programmes on iPlayer).

A few points from the programme:

- The programme focuses on the difficulty in local areas getting access to the ERDF due to UK government cut-backs. As 50% of the money needs to be raised to match any ERDF funding, the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies have left local councils to try to scrape the money together themselves, which is harder to do in poorer areas that need it the most. The UK government says that they have set up other funds that can be used to match and access ERDF funding, and that 98% of the EDRF funding for 2007-2013 period is in place with the relevant match funding.

- In crisis-hit countries it's even harder to access the fund, with 26% of Greece's EDRF funding unspent. The co-financing rate has been lowered to as much as 5% for countries in difficulty like Ireland, Romania, Greece and Portugal. One proposal for improving the use of EDRF in the economic crisis is to reform it so it can be used to support government programmes, such as health and education spending, instead of on fixed projects that take a long time to have an economic effect.

- The UK Parliament's Local Government Committee wants reform of the ERDF so that the UK still contributes to an EU pot for poorer EU countries, but with the percentage that the UK gets back from the ERDF retained rather than being cycled through Brussels (though some regions feel that they may lose out if the money is no longer earmarked specifically for regional development). The UK government says that that reform is not on the cards for the next EU budget.

One thing that's clear from the programme is how overlooked some regions are, both due to the UK government and the difficulties in the ERDF rules, and that local councils don't have the financial or political power to achieve some of the things necessary for local areas. Maybe it's time to look at (democratic) regional government in England again? It would be worthwhile to compare the regions within Scotland and Wales, which have devolved government, and the English regions.

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