HC Deb 02 March 2000 vol 345 cc549-50
16. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

What progress has been made in completing funding negotiations for EU objective 1 regions; and if he will make a statement. [111547]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Dr. Kim Howells)

The UK's objective 1 programmes were submitted to the Commission last year, and the Commission has now formally responded to some of them. Discussions are continuing and I hope that the programmes will be agreed to.

Mr. George

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but is he aware that even the enterprise grant fund referred to in an earlier reply will deliver only £75,000 per annum to the objective 1 region of Cornwall? Does he accept that rather than encouraging unemployed people to apply for non-existent jobs in objective 1 areas, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to do, it would be far better to invest public money to ensure that we can draw down the available funds in objective 1 regions to generate jobs and regenerate those economies?

Dr. Howells

The Government are concerned to ensure that productive employment is retained in areas such as the one that the hon. Gentleman represents. I understand that the Government are working with all objective 1 areas to help them to identify match funding. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said on 3 February: All departments and Government offices will work closely with the areas to benefit, to ensure that they get the match funding that they need.—[Official Report, 3 February 2000; Vol. 343, c. 1191.]

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

Although I accept that the Chancellor cannot make a final announcement about match funding until he has the results of the comprehensive spending review, will the Minister's Department put maximum pressure on the Treasury to make sure that match funding exists, and ask whether the Treasury can give any early indication on it? Most importantly, does the Minister agree that, in objective 1 areas, the emphasis must shift to devising schemes for infrastructure, skills training and improved opportunities for the work force, so that when the objective 1 funds are available, we can take maximum advantage of them?

Dr. Howells

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am very much in favour of the projects to which he has referred. I am confident that the funding will be found, and that we will proceed with that important aid. However, I am interested in the quality of the projects, and it is no use propping up projects or ideas that are not of sufficient quality to be sustainable or to make a difference to the areas that they seek to help.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Can the Minister assure the House that in meeting the match funding for Cornwall's objective 1 status, other counties in the south-west will not suffer?

Dr. Howells

We cannot move the assisted areas map east to Dorset, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like. He will know that certain criteria have to be met; we will stick strictly with those criteria and ensure that, within them, assisted areas are helped properly.

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