§ Mr. Derek Twigg
To ask the President of the Board of Trade if there will be a further round of the regional challenge competition for the allocation of European structural funds grants.
§ Mrs. Beckett
The Government has decided that the further round of the regional challenge competition will not go ahead and the prize fund of £160 million will return to the regions eligible for structural funds grants. This will restore decision-making on funding allocations to the regions and relieve local partners of the considerable burden involved in the administration of the challenge approach.
The first round of regional challenge did, of course, produce some imaginative projects with potentially significant regional benefits, and we wish these projects every success. However, the original aims of the challenge can now be achieved through other mechanisms. The new "action plan" approach, to be introduced on a flexible basis in England, will encourage a strong strategic focus on high quality projects which can make a real difference to the regional economy and attract private sector contributions, whilst avoiding the additional administrative burdens of regional challenge.