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West MPs urge Cameron to help Devon win vital European cash aid

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 07, 2012

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MPs have lobbied David Cameron over securing European Union regeneration grants for Devon against fears the area has long missed out on money it deserves.

Nine Westcountry MPs have signed a letter handed in to Number 10 yesterday warning that extra aid will help plans to "reduce dependency on benefits and public sector jobs" in Devon.

The missive also states it will help eradicate the "cliff-edge" effect where Cornwall gets significantly larger amounts of EU subsidy, despite both areas being among the poorest in the country.

If approved, "transition zone" funding could be worth around £2.6 billion to the UK.

The plan is being championed by the government- approved local economic body the Heart of the South West, which is charged with boosting jobs in Devon, Plymouth, Torbay and Somerset.

North Devon Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey, one of the signatories, said: "Transition funding would give a huge boost to economic growth in Devon and Somerset, where eight of our constituencies are now in the bottom 15% for lowest wages in Britain compared to three Cornish constituencies.

"The Heart of the South West LEP has come up with a prospectus championing the best delivery of EU transition funding, so we are ideally placed to target this vital funding at the most important local priorities – rather than the less effective top-down Whitehall route."

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.

The European Union is still to decide how it distributes so-called structural funds against pressure from the British government, among others, to slash Brussels spending.

In March, official figures revealed Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly's Gross Domestic Deposit Product (GDP) is 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.

Across the Tamar, Devon's output was at 86.5%. But because of "anomalies" in EU statistics, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay are lumped into the same category as much-more- affluent London and Hamburg, the letter says.

It goes on: "(Transition funding) will also tackle the economic 'cliff-edge' where adjoining areas such as Devon ... receive only a tenth of the development assistance that neighbouring Cornwall gets."

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.

Exeter Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said: "The Prime Minister currently has a real problem with a stagnant economy and needs to recognise the growth a 'transition zone' for Devon would bring."

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