Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Newspaper column 19 October 2016 - Questioning the PM on funding for Cornwall

The Brexit debate rumbles on. Last week I was pleased to be able to ask the Prime Minister, at the first PMQ’s after the conference recess, for an update on post-EU funding for Cornwall.

One of the key questions asked by people in Cornwall since the referendum has been whether the UK Government would be committed to support the Cornish economy following the ending of funding through the EU.

Despite several rounds of European Regional Development funding the Cornish economy still lags around 30% below the UK average. In my mind this points to the failure of the European funding that we have had in the past to really make any difference to the people and businesses that really need them.

The previous rounds of EU funding that we did get were meant to create 10,000 new jobs in Cornwall. In fact, in the past 10 years or so, it has helped created only around a third of that number. That Cornwall has now qualified for a third round of EU economic aid demonstrates that the funding is failing. It is not lifting the Cornish economy as it was supposed to do and has not raised wages or the standard of living in the way it was designed to.

There are some very practical reasons for that failure. We are not able to spend the funding on what we need to in Cornwall. How we should spend it has been dictated, Big Brother fashion, by the EU. The EU funding we had was designed for a Europe-wide programme that does not fit the Cornish economy and often applicants were forced to fit proverbial round pegs into square holes in order to try to access the money.

As an example, what Cornwall really needs in larger businesses moving into our Duchy that will bring significant investment and job creation. However the current round of funding through the EU excludes larger businesses – the very thing we actually need. 

Throughout the referendum campaign I argued that should we vote to leave the European Union, we would have the potential to replace European funding with our own regional economic programme that would be less bureaucratic, more effectively targeted and better value for money for the British taxpayer.

With this in mind I asked the Prime Minister whether she agreed with me that Brexit will allow the Government to bring in just such a programme, as well as whether she could provide an assurance that her government will continue to invest in the poorer parts of the country like Cornwall once we leave the EU.

In response the Prime Minister provided me with the reassurance that in line with her goal for an economy that works for everyone, for every part of our country including areas like Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, she would be open to further discussions with Cornwall on ways in which the Government can improve the Cornish economy for the future.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister has been clear she will continue to work with us to ensure we deliver what Cornwall needs. I believe we have an opportunity to develop an economic programme that will be more effective than what we have had in the past through the EU. There are many other aspects of our Brexit negotiations to consider with them in the last week seemingly encompassing everything from immigration to the price of marmite. I will do all I can to make sure Cornwall gets the best deal for our future.