Wednesday, October 8, 2014

News: EU funding fight set for Supreme Court

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Local authorities battling the government over the way it decided how millions of EU funding was allocated are taking their appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases and hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole population.

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 previous settlement, South Yorkshire received €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 decision meant that the Government had to reconsider its decision, taking into account proper equalities information.

Led by Rotherham Council, the authorities in South Yorkshire and Merseyside appealed against the High Court rejection. That appeal was dismissed in June when the judge decided that, due to the complex nature of the funding, Vince Cable should be afforded a wide margin of discretion and that the courts should not interfere.

The Court also refused permission to appeal but representatives escalated the case to the Supreme Court which has granted permission to appeal. The appeal is now scheduled to be heard on October 22.

A recent scrutiny review by borough councillors into how Rotherham Council can support the local economy highlighted the "huge, further drop in available funding," for economic development and business support as the current European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme, which is the main source of funding for this area of work, will cease in 2015, and is likely to result in a further significant reduction in available resources and services.

ERDF has supported projects in Rotherham such as The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), the Nuclear AMRC, the redevelopment of Rotherham Railway Station, the Rotherham Renaissance Flood Alleviation Scheme, the award-winning enterprise education programme Rotherham Ready, and business support programmes for high growth companies and enterprising exporters.

In May the government launched a consultation to seek comments and views on the contents of the draft operational programme for ERDF as part of the 2014 to 2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England.

Images: RiDO

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