The UK is set to receive£6.4bn from EU Structural Funds - 60% of what it got for 2000-2006. In making the region's official response to the DTI, the NWDA and NWRA believe that the region merits£1.2bn and are making the case that the majority of the funds should go to regions with economic output below the national average.
'The north west economy is making great progress, not least because of our effective investment of previous European funding, but still lags behind the national average. Therefore the north west merits a substantial sum from the Competitiveness and Employment programme.
'In the north west we are realistic, we know we will get less than the£1.6bn we got last time. But this region must retain substantial resources to plan and invest for its long term regeneration.'
Between£275 and£310m has already been earmarked for Merseyside to ensure the sub-regional economy achieves a 'soft landing' after its Objective 1 status was this year reviewed because of the entry of the new Accession countries to the EU.
The north west now seeks to secure a top slice of the national Competitiveness Fund for Cumbria which is the only part of the UK experiencing economic decline in absolute terms. The NWDA and NWRA are also bidding for significant sums for Lancashire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.
Bryan Gray, chairman of the Northwest Regional Development Agency, said:
'Competitiveness and Employment funds play an important role in helping to deliver the priorities outlined in the new regional economic strategy and so it is crucial that the north west receives an appropriate allocation. The NWDA will continue to work with the NWRA to put forward the region's case and place the North West in a strong position.'
The government launched a consultation on its National Strategic Reference Framework on 28/2/06 which outlines the allocation and future use of Structural Funds in the UK (the NW full response is available on request). The DTI will respond to the consultation by mid-August and determine its position on the issues raised. It will then be approved by the European Commission.
Key North West arguments
The NWDA and NWRA want to see the Regional Economic Performance PSA target as the common objective for both ERDF and ESF funding. This determines 'to make sustainable improvements in the economic performance of all English regions and over the long term reduce the persistent gap in growth rates between the regions' - providing the evidence base for allocating the majority of the funds to regions with a below average GVA.
An allocation from the overall national Competitiveness and Employment Programme should be made for Cumbria to recognise that it is the only UK region in economic decline - this should be top sliced from the national pot and not taken from money otherwise allocated to the north west.
There should be a single regional Competitiveness and Employment Programme for the North West region, including the proposed ring-fenced component for Merseyside. The Regional Economic Strategy (RES) takes forward both the Lisbon and the Northern Way agendas and will be used to determine overall priorities for ERDF and ESF in the 2007-2013 programme.
The scope for the ESF component should be enhanced to include training for intermediate and higher level skills, entrepreneurship, management and leadership skills because these are excluded from NSRF proposals. These are the skill sets that the north west particularly needs to retain and enhance and this move would be in line with the Regional Skills Partnership priorities contained within the RES.