Poorest parts of Devon miss out as Cornwall grabs EU funding
Devon's economy risks being left in the wake of Cornwall's if it misses out on vital EU regeneration subsidies, the Government has been warned.
Cornwall remains so poor that the area will get another round of grants from Brussels from 2014, despite already receiving around £1 billion since the mid-1990s.
But critics have long warned the most impoverished corners of Devon are even more desperate – but do not get the same support.
The European Union is still to decide how it distributes so-called structural funds to areas that fall in the bracket requiring the second highest level of aid, which includes Devon.
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In the House of Commons, North Devon MP Nick Harvey urged Treasury ministers to ring-fence the cash for the least well-off "transition" regions, rather than ask them to bid for cash.
In a question to Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he said: "Will he impress upon ministerial colleagues that if European funding is going to help areas like North Devon and Torbay, which recent research shows are more likely to slip into poverty even than Cornwall, then the schemes which draw the funding will have to be designed to work from the bottom up and not – as some of them would seem to prefer – from the top down?" Mr Alexander responded: "He is right to say that transition status has benefited regions such as his.
"Our principal objective in relation to the budget negotiations is to bring down the total EU budget in recognition of what is going on around Europe, but we will happily discuss further with him his concerns about the issues that he has raised to ensure that we secure a fair deal for impoverished regions of this country as well."
Devon, alongside Plymouth and Torbay, will qualify for a new "transition" region category of EU funding.
It is thought four Government departments are adopting different approaches to how money should be handed out, leading to fears among officials in Devon the county will have to compete for cash with other regions.
In March, official figures revealed Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly's Gross Domestic Deposit Product (GDP) is still below 75% of the European average, meaning it is in line for seven more years of help, worth around £410 million.
The GDP of Cornwall and the Scillies was 71.9% of the European average in 2009, the latest available figures. It means it remains poorer than parts of Romania, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
A category of regions "in transition", which have a GDP between 75% and 90% of the EU average, stand to get funding but not on the same scale. Across the Tamar, Devon qualifies as it recorded output at 86.5%.
But recent Experian research showed that in Devon areas including Torbay, North Devon, and Teignbridge significant higher risk of sliding into poverty compared to Cornwall and the rest of the UK.
Two seven-year investment programmes – Objective One followed by Convergence – will have pumped close to £1 billion of taxpayers' money into Cornwall between 1999 and the end of next year.
The money has paid for getting Cornwall one of the fastest broadband connections in Europe, the development of Newquay Airport and the Combined Universities in Cornwall project.
Offices, factories and roads have also been underwritten by the cash, and a precursor programme was crucial to getting the Eden Project built.
Last week, a delegation from Wales, including representatives from the Welsh Government and key local authorities, visited a number of flagship EU projects in Cornwall this week to see how effective investment can help regenerate local areas.