Sunday, 12 July 2009
Where is that money.....
In the past fortnight I have been combined a trip to Brussels to sort out office etc with a whistle stop tour around the East of England meeting businesses and some of our community leaders. On Friday I was in Bedfordshire meeting the new Central Beds council. Tomorrow, before flying out to Strasbourg, I will meet councillors in Essex. Yesterday I was at Hertfordshire County Hall for their annual reception. There I met councillors, community leaders, many local mayors and representatives of the Youth Parliament (pictured). In addition I have met business leaders, farmers and rural business owners in Cambridgeshire. I've spent a day in Norwich as well as Suffolk Coastal.
The constant complaint is the lack of funds - and more specifically - the impenetrable maze of red tape that surrounds EU grants. At a time when purse strings are tight everywhere it is incredibly frustrating to know that British taxpayers money has been paid into funds, that the funds are "available" but somehow may not be getting back to where they are needed.
For example, we have over 500,000 small or medium sized businesses (SMES) in the East of England and they are a crucial part of our economy. Many of these companies are involved in Research and Development where the EU has a 7 year budget for over €50billion. The EU target is to allocate at least 15% of the budget to small or medium sized companies. I'm not a fan of top down targets but hearing that our region with so many SMEs is 20% below that target does back up what the companies themselves have been saying. The money does not appear to be getting to where it is needed.
I have been told again and again that information on different funds is very confusing. In the next few weeks I will be writing to councillors across the region asking them to share examples of good or bad experiences from grass root levels. We also need much clearer information on what may be available and how businesses, voluntary organisations or local authorities can find help navigating this maze.