§ The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)
Merseyside's European funding is for the period to 2001. Of the £55 million transferred by the Commission to the United Kingdom, £23.7 million has been authorised for payment. The rest is held by Government under the rules set down by the European Union to make further payments as claims for approved projects are submitted.
§ Mr. Alton
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Notwithstanding what he said, does he recognise that there 318 is some concern that, in the first part of the overall period in which money can be spent, there has been a failure to deliver money to projects which had hoped to be under way by now? Does he agree with the recommendations of the monitoring committee which has been working in partnership with the Government, and does he intend fully to implement its proposals? What will happen to the money that has already been given to the Government by Brussels? Will it accrue to the advantage of the Government or to Merseyside?
§ Mr. Curry
The answer to the final part of the question is that the money takes the form of authorisation for payment. There is no crock of gold in a bank in Merseyside and it does not earn interest, so it cannot earn interest for the Government. It can be spent only on projects which have been approved. Those projects are sufficient to draw down the entire amount that was sent over in the year that we are considering. Only about 20 out of 800 projects have not received final approval because of details that need to be settled, and we are on target for the second tranche of projects for which we should get clearance in July.
§ Mr. Wareing
Is not there a tendency for them to accumulate, because there is a complaint in Liverpool of slothfulness in dealing with the bids?
§ Mr. Wareing
And in The Wirral, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) says. Should not the Government increase the resources of the secretariat so that the process can be speeded up, or are they quite happy to continue at the same old steady pace?
§ Mr. Curry
The hon. Gentleman is not being reasonable. The Commission released the schemes only last July, so the 1995 schemes could not even begin to be considered until the second half of the year. Nearly 800 of those schemes have been approved. The next tranche will fall due in July. We are on schedule for dealing with them in July. I recognise people's anxiety to get the schemes under way because of Liverpool's particular status, and I shall ensure that the regional office does everything in its power to do so. I spoke to the director again yesterday and he told me how strongly the office is committed to making sure that the schemes progress.