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Monday, January 30, 2012

Senior Labour MPs back devolving structural funds back to the UK

This is an interesting development. Amid everything else that's happening on the Europe-front, a bunch of Labour MPs today come out in force, backing the idea of devolving EU structural funds back to the UK. In a letter to the Guardian, 17 Labour MPs, including former Cabinet Ministers Bob Ainsworth and Jack Straw, urge the Coalition to adopt the policy first floated by Gordon Brown, to focus the structural funds exclusively on the poorer member states.

The letter reads:
In the context of the growing euro crisis, it is interesting to note that Gordon Brown – while he was chancellor of the exchequer – argued strongly for the repatriation of EU structural funds. Writing in the Times in 2003, he said: "When the economic and social, as well as the democratic, arguments on structural funds now and for the future so clearly favour subsidiarity in action, there is no better place to start than by bringing regional policy back to Britain."

The article was written in support of a Treasury document called A Modern Regional Policy for the United Kingdom, published in March of that year. The paper argued that there was much time and money being wasted in processing contributions from countries such as Britain, only to send the contributions back in the form of structural funding.

Much easier and simpler, the then chancellor seemed to be saying, to let Britain keep the cash and get on with the job of using our own structural funds. The pressure group Open Europe has calculated that Britain would have been better off by something like £4.2bn if Brown's system had been adopted. What is more, some of the most deprived UK regions are currently short-changed by the structural funds, because EU allocations are based on inflexible, one-size-fits all criteria. For instance, the West Midlands has the lowest disposable income per capita in the UK, yet pays the EU £3.55 for every £1 it receives back in structural funding, according to Open Europe estimates. In contrast, if Labour's policy had been pursued, each region would have experienced a rise in the amount of subsidies they receive by around 45% compared with now. For example, Cornwall would have received an additional £207m over seven years.

Alan Johnson, also argued in 2003, that regional policy ought to be "resourced domestically in richer member states, like the UK, with the institutions and the financial strength to do it. This would end the unnecessary and inefficient recycling of funds between richer member states, like the UK, via Brussels ..."The Cameron government seems to have abandoned any attempt to change EU structural funding to concentrate on trying to freeze the EU budget – a strategy which has already failed. Perhaps this government could take a look at what was being argued for a few years ago – it could benefit us all.

John Cryer MP, Jack Straw MP, Katy Clark MP, Thomas Docherty MP, Dennis Skinner MP, Gisela Stuart MP, Andrew Smith MP, Mike Wood MP Robert Ainsworth MP, John McDonnell MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Grahame Morris MP, Ian Lavery MP, Ian Davidson MP, Frank Field MP, Graham Stringer MP

One for the Coalition to ponder...

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