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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

(B of the) Bang for our Buck?

If ever you wanted a metaphor for the shambles that is the EU budget, this is it. The Times tells us that the “B of the Bang” sculpture in Manchester is being dismantled and sent for recycling, after only four years of existence.

Last month the Mail reported the original design and construction of B of the Bang cost £1.42 million, £700,000 of which was funded by the EU's European Regional Development Fund - money matched by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and Manchester City Council. Bear in mind that the EU's regional funds are meant to boost regional employment and growth.

The project was plagued by delays, spiralling costs and safety fears. Only two weeks after the work was unveiled in January 2005, parts of the sculpture, which swayed alarmingly in the wind, began to fall off and more spikes had to be removed. Manchester City Council closed the nearby road amid concerns that a passer-by could be injured by a falling spike.

If local councils want to waste taxpayers' money, then they are at least accountable to their electorates. It's a mistake that local councillors would be unwise to repeat if they want to hold on to their jobs.

However, there is no such incentive for anyone to put a stop to the EU wasting our money - in fact, the unaccountable nature of the EU budget, designed for the 1950s rather than the 21st Century, leads to these ridiculous types of projects year after year after year. See here for last year's '100 examples of EU fraud and waste', for instance.

Any fool can see how ridiculous the system is: sending money to Brussels only to have it sent back (minus the admin fee) with strict guidelines on how it can be spent and with the added caveat that failure to spend it (even badly) means less money next time around. To read our take on why the EU shouldn't run regional policy, see here.

How many more examples does the Government need to take EU budget reform seriously?


bureaucrat on holiday said...

you may be right that the money was not well spent but your argument that it is the fault of 'Brussels' and the 'unaccountable' EU budget simply does not hold: how the EU aid to regions is spent is not decided by Brussels but by your own national or regional government - it is them who decided that the EU money they had been given to boost employment and regional competitiveness was spent on this rather extravagant sculpture

Pete Chown said...

The EU is expected to spend €134bn this year. Perhaps its budget should be cut by a factor of a thousand, to €134M.

There is obvious benefit in cooperating with our neighbours, but cooperation doesn't need to be expensive. We could get rid of the detailed single market rules, for example. Instead of these rules, we would just promise not to discriminate between locally produced goods and goods from other EU countries.

This means that you wouldn't necessarily be able to sell the same product across the EU, but you can't do that anyway, because of language differences. On the other hand, your right to sell *a* product would be protected.

Setting this up might require a summit, and some staff. Would it be over-generous to budget €10M of the €134M for this purpose?

Open Europe blog team said...

While it is true that Regional Development Agencies decide how the money is spent on individual projects like this one, it is the fact the money is channelled through the EU that creates incentives for the money to be spent fast and inefficiently.

There is a lack of accountability because as long as the money is spent it keeps on coming. This is bound to lead to poor choices in spending.

It is also the case that the prescriptive rules do not allow the UK authorities to spend the money freely, for example, on social housing.

The system also creates two more layers of bureaucracy: one at the EU level and another on a regional level. Surely, there has to be an easier way.

Anonymous said...

"Surely, there has to be an easier way."

Yes, there is: leaving the European Union.