HL Deb 09 December 1999 vol 607 cc1388-91

3.30 p.m.

Lord Newby

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that the United Kingdom does not lose European Union regional aid which is available until 31st December 1999.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, current structural fund programmes have until the end of 2001 to spend the money allocated to them at the beginning of 1997. Structural funding will therefore not be lost, provided that programmes have contracted with final beneficiaries by 31st December 1999 and payments are made over the following two years.

The Government share the concerns of some regional partners about the problems of identifying final beneficiaries by the end of this year. We discussed this with the European Commission. However, the Commission argued that the deadline was legally binding and well known. We have therefore issued instructions to partnerships through the government regional offices guiding them through the final phase of the current programme. We also agreed with the Commission that local partnerships can draw up reserve lists of beneficiaries to replace any which fall out.

Lord Newby

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that regional development agencies are anxious not simply about identifying projects, but also, and more importantly, about receiving an assurance from the Government that the funds available to them over this year and next are not reduced? High quality projects, which are of great significance to these regions, will not then be put into jeopardy with regard to their funding because of government parsimony.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I presume that the noble Lord is referring to "match funds", which have to be provided from other areas. The government regional offices are in a position to help with advice on sources of match funding, and that can include the Single Regeneration Budget, English Partnerships indeed, New Deal money. Match funding for 2001 and beyond is currently being considered as part of the overall spending review.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom pays the European Union many billions of pounds a year for this sort of purpose, of which the European Union is graciously pleased to give back only a part, does not the Minister agree that there is no such thing as "EU funding"? If he does not agree, does he not believe that the Government, in all their wisdom, could spend all those billions much more wisely than when they are passed through the corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy in Brussels?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the term "EU funding" simply means funds which come from the EU. At the same time, we pay into those EU funds. There is nothing mysterious or difficult about that. Clearly, we could also fund this money ourselves through a different route. I have no evidence that there is any such corruption. It is an endlessly repeated point, but I do not see that there is any cause for alarm.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, given the great effort that was made to include Cornwall in Objective 1,will the Minister consider indicating to the regional development agencies that they should do their best to try to help find matching funding? Otherwise, some of the poorest regions in the United Kingdom will not benefit as much as they might from obtaining the full amount of EU funding, as my noble friend pointed out.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, regional offices do everything they can to support RD As and other bodies in finding funds. As far as I am aware, the money goes to where the needs are greatest through local partnerships rather than simply from where the matching funds can be most easily found.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, if there is no information of corruption, why did the whole of the European Commission resign?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I was simply making a point in relation to this programme. If noble Lords want to pursue the general question of the amount of corruption in the European Union, there are opportunities to do so. I was referring to this specific programme.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how much regional aid funding has been lost to the UK by the levying of fines on the United Kingdom by the Commission for what it believes is irregular use of the money in various parts of the country?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I am not aware of any fines, but I shall make inquiries and write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the effect on rural areas where some of the crucial partners are local authorities which are still suffering from the Government's lack of recognition of what is known as the "sparcity" factor? The Government also brought in more targeted funding which particularly hit other services, including all of the projects which fall under some of the Objective 2 funding. Targeting specific areas which the Government wish to pursue is likely to prevent local authorities taking a full part in some of the partnerships.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the funds are developed for regions or areas on the basis of local partnerships which involve, in most cases, all of the participants, whether they are local authorities, regional development agencies or other bodies. As I said, as far as I am aware, the funds are targeted by the groups on the areas of greatest and most urgent social need.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that there is no danger at all of any European funds being lost because the Government do not provide matching funds by the appropriate date?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is up to the specific bodies concerned—that is, the local partnerships which are under the control of the programme monitoring committees—to raise the matching funds. The Government will give all possible help, but the responsibility for matching funds lies squarely with the local partnerships and the programme monitoring committees.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what proportion of funds collected in the United Kingdom in the way of taxes and transferred to the EU actually comes back to the United Kingdom in the way of grants or other benevolent manner?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, that is slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper, but I am happy to write to the noble Lord with the figures.

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