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Hansard 26 April: Column 119 ...
Hansard 26 April: Column 119

The government, which is considering which parts of the UK - except Northern Ireland, which has special status - to designate as assisted areas under new European Union guidelines will target smaller geographical units than at present.

And trade minister Michael Wills told MPs that no announcement on the new map will be made before mid-June. The European Commission originally asked for proposals by 31 March, but about half the member states, including the UK, had not yet done so because of the complexity in meeting the new crucial five indicators for European assistance based on a geographical unit and - in the case of Britain - of providing coverage that most effectively met its reduced population ceiling for Euro help.

Replying to last night's adjournment debate initiated by Malcolm Moss, Conservative MP for North-east Cambridgeshire, the minister said: 'We expect measures of labour market weakness - high unemployment or low employment rates - to be an important factor. Using a smaller, rather than a larger geographical unit for the map will offer the most scope for targeting areas effectively within our overall population ceiling.

'Again, that is in line with the outcome of our consultation. It showed that there was most public support for the use of wards - which is the smallest unit - as the building block of the map. We are currently working on how we can achieve that effectively within the various rules laid down by the commission'.

Mr Moss, who said his district councils in the Wisbech area were among the most successful in the eastern region in using its assisted area status, which it will enjoy until January 2000. But it was a pocket of deprivation within an area of Cambridgeshire - 'a prsoperous county, within a seemingly prosperous East Anglia'. The area, however, had a problem of structural decline and the Henley Centre's industrial index ranked the Fenlands 433 out of 459 local authority areas and predicted it will be one of the worst areas for employment in Britain.

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