Friday, February 14, 2014

News: Fight for fair EU funding continues

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Local authorities challenging the government's reallocation of 50% of South Yorkshire's European funding will consider taking their challenge to the Court of Appeal.

The government last year announced that the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (which includes South Yorkshire along with north Nottingham and north Derbyshire districts) can expect €203m for 2014 to 2020 as part of €6.2bn (£5.3bn) of EU Structural and Investment Funds to boost growth under a simplified "Growth Programme."

In the current settlement, South Yorkshire receives €410m. From 2014-2020 this will be cut to €180m.

The legal challenge focused on the appropriate treatment of the consequences of the former status of South Yorkshire as a "phasing in" region in the 2007-2013 funding period and that this allegedly gave rise to an unfair allocation for South Yorkshire, which is now classified as a "transition region" for 2014-2020.

The High Court rejected these substantive grounds of challenge and said that the methodology adopted by the Secretary of State was lawful and rational. However, the Court quashed Ministers decisions after ruling they were unlawful as they had been taken in breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

The Government only carried out an Equality Impact Assessment after the decision was taken to protect Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales from a cut of more than a five per cent.

The judgement also confirms that the government's own estimate of the funding for South Yorkshire is €58m less than the European Commission's policy intended.

Councillor Roger Stone, Leader of Rotherham Borough Council, said: "We are obviously pleased that the decision has been quashed and that the Government will now have to reconsider the drastic effects of his decision to cut funding by 61 per cent to the economically-deprived areas of South Yorkshire and Merseyside.

"However, we are disappointed that the Judge did not agree with us that the methodology used in making the allocation decisions, was so unfair that it was in itself unlawful.

"We do not take legal action lightly. But this is a hugely serious matter and we  are sure that our people would want us to fight to try and get as much regeneration funding as possible, particularly as the European Union itself said there was a discrepancy."

The ruling will not result in the authorities automatically receiving more funding but it does mean the Government will have to reconsider its decision, taking into account proper equalities information. The claimants, led by Rotherham Council, will consider whether to take their EU law and other substantive challenges to the Court of Appeal.

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey has been fighting for fairness even before the Government's decision was made and is demanding a meeting with the Business Secretary Vince Cable and has applied for a Parliamentary debate later this month.

Mr Healey, said: "The government have proposed cutbacks in European funding much more severe even than our worst fears, and massively deeper than in any other area in the UK.

"The high court has now told the government to rethink the decisions they have taken on this money, which is crucial to helping our economy reach its potential.

"I want to ensure any new decisions stop discrimination against our region, so have requested an urgent meeting to discuss the court's judgement and put the case for a fair settlement to support jobs and stronger growth in South Yorkshire."

European programmes such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) have supported projects in Rotherham such as The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), the Nuclear AMRC, the redevelopment of Rotherham Railway Station (pictured), the award-winning enterprise education programme Rotherham Ready, and business support programmes for high growth companies and enterprising exporters.

Images: Aedas

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