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REGION CHIEFS SEEK TALKS WITH PRESCOTT OVER EURO FUNDS

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Leaders of the North of England Assembly of Local Authorities have announced that they are seeking urgent meetings ...
Leaders of the North of England Assembly of Local Authorities have announced that they are seeking urgent meetings with senior government ministers over the future of European funding for the region - and they are calling for a united campaign over an issue which, says NEA chair John McCormack, 'goes to the very heart of our economic and social regeneration.'

Their decision to seek meetings with environment secretary John Prescott and trade and industry secretary Margaret Beckett follows last week's announcement over proposals from EU and government statisticians which it is feared could seriously threaten future levels of European aid in the region.

Already NEA representatives have met trade and industry minister Barbara Roche, who has been involved in discussions over the future of European funding, together with the Northern Group of Labour MPs and MEPs from the region - but today the NEA said the issue was so serious that is must be taken to cabinet level.

The proposals put forward by the statisticians would help areas such as Cornwall, part of Wales and London to benefit from the highest level of European aid. However, no such move is being proposed for Northumberland and Durham - even though the NEA - together with local authorities, MPs and MEPs - believes that the two counties should be bracketed together when the new system for deciding on regional aid levels is introduced after next year. This would greatly strengthen their case for gaining what is known as 'Objective One' status and therefore qualifying for the highest level of support.

Cllr McCormack said: 'We firmly believe that, if there is a case for recognising the particular needs of areas such as Cornwall and South Wales, then the case for our region is at least as strong - and we are sure that this view will be widely supported throughout the region.

'In the north we continue to have some of the highest levels of unemployment and deprivation in the country and it cannot be acceptable that decisions such as this, which could have a vital impact on our future, are left completely in the hands of statisticians in Brussels and London, who have no practical understanding of the problems facing our region.

'We are particularly concerned that this announcement was made only a few days after the European commissioner Padraig Flynn had been in the region a few days ago to discuss the very issue. He indicated that no final decision would be made until next April - yet now the statisticians are suggesting it as all cut and dried.

'We are determined that the fight to gain Objective One status for Northumberland and Durham must go on - as will our efforts to ensure that the remainder of the region, such as Tyne and Wear and the Tees Valley, is successful in gaining Objective Two status.

'This is an issue on which the whole region must unite. Many millions of pounds of potential European funding are at stake and the implications are extremely serious for all sections of the community, local authorities, the rest of public, private and voluntary sectors alike.

'We were heartened by the response from the region's MPs and MEPs when we met them over the past few days and we intend to keep them fully involved. We do believe it is now vital that senior government ministers become involved because this is an issue which goes to the very heart of our economic and social regeneration - especially at a time when there is continuing concern over the imblance between resources available for attracting inward investment in Scotland and Wales and those in regions such as ours.'

Under the current regional aid programme the North is receiving well over half a billion pounds between 1994 and 1999 and the NEA is working with key partner organisations to emphasise the importance of maximising the North's share of European funding in the future.

A major report, setting out the 'Case for the North East' is being being widely distributed, emphasising the need for continuing help to attract new jobs and investment - and to tackle the deep-seated economic and social problems which continue to affect the region. It also uses a number of case studies across the region to illustrate how European funding has been used - and why it must be continued.

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