HC Deb 19 June 1996 vol 279 cc860-1
6. Sir David Knox

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the value of grants allocated to England from the European regional development fund since its inception. [32113]

Mr. Eggar

It is £7.1 billion in 1996 prices.

Sir David Knox

That is a significant figure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the grants are playing an important part in strengthening the British economy? Does he believe that the British people are aware of the nature and scope of these grants? If not, what is he doing to publicise them?

Mr. Eggar

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the grants are an important part of assistance to the appropriate regions. As my hon. Friend knows, his constituency is in the midlands uplands area, which is eligible for objective 5b assistance and it received a programme allocation of £10 million. Assistance through the regional assistance programmes of the European Union is an important contribution to the successful economic growth not only of this country but of the European Union as a whole. This is just another example of the tremendous benefits that we gain from being part of the European Union. It is assisting us to establish ourselves as the enterprise centre of Europe.

Mr. Pearson

Does the Minister believe that the shambles of the current European regional development fund round is due to non-co-operation among Brussels officials, incompetence in Government regional offices, or both?

Mr. Eggar

There have been delays in taking decisions about a number of structural funds and much of the responsibility for that lies with Brussels. Government officers and I have been trying to speed up the decision making on those grants. Above all, we must ensure that we get good value for the money that is disbursed. That is why we introduced the regional challenge programme and why the private sector is able to benefit from European regional development funding. That decision has provided a further £800 million in joint funding. We must continue to improve the speed of disbursement and the quality of disbursement decisions.