I've just returned from 2 days fact finding in Brussels - flying into a country in the midst of a major strike is not great fun. No trains, schools, buses or trams but still the bureaucracy of the system grinds onwards.
I went with a delegation of elected councillors from across the East of England - as a member of the European and Foreign Affairs committee on the Regional Assembly. The regional assembly is another unwieldy bureaucracy but (whilst its there) my view is that is better to try to steer it than hide from it. Hearing about the strike I'd tried to get out of the meetings but when I realised we were discussing over £300 million of British Taxpayers money that is being pulled back from the grips of the EU back into the East of England I decided I had to find out more.
It is a maze of money (our taxpayer's money) peppered with acronyms and jargon. In two days of meetings I have only a marginally better idea of where some of the money is going; the £94,000 towards a wild game processing facility "to meet a market gap for locally sourced and processed game" seems pretty easy to understand ditto the £400,000 for Southend on Sea to improve public transport. However there were lots of other projects where I could have raised question after question - the £15 million which aims to help target groups "not eligible for mainstream provision" find jobs by offering "individually tailored provision which provides a full and inclusive range of support" sounds worthy - but at a cost of £1,600 per customer does it work? A heated debate was had about the lack of any new funding for migrant integration in education.
In the meantime big issues like our overcrowded roads and railways get drowned out in the detail. The dithering of the Department for Transport allowed over £100 million of EU money to be left on the table last year - it could have been used to help get freight off the roads.
Part of the problem is that although we were given a lot of information, the elected local representatives and even the MEPs actually have very little opportunity to influence decisions. My conclusion (and this is just after a first tasting) is that one must use each of those opportunities to influence as loudly as possible!