Clegg asleep on job as John continues fight for fair funding for South Yorkshire

JOHN Healey accused Nick Clegg of being “asleep on the job” during a debate about big cuts in European funding allocated to South Yorkshire.

The Wentworth and Dearne MP secured an adjournment debate yesterday (25 February), after the High Court ruled the Government’s decisions were unlawful and quashed them.

For more than a year, Mr Healey and Yorkshire Labour MEP Linda McAvan have been fighting for a fair settlement and against South Yorkshire’s money being used to ‘top up’ Scotland, which has a far stronger economy.

Last year the Government announced Sheffield City Region would receive €203m for 2014-2020 – much less than other, richer areas, and a worse than expected cut of 61 per cent compared to the last period.

Mr Healey said in the Commons yesterday: “The ministers were wrong. Their decisions are unfair, unjustifiable and unlawful.

“They take funds from South Yorkshire and from Merseyside to top up support for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to limit their losses to 5% while cutting our support by more than 50%.

“They undermine the very purpose of EU structural funds, which is to boost the jobs, skills, businesses and economies of the regions lagging behind.”

The High Court saw documents showing the European Commission’s intended allocation for South Yorkshire was €236 million – €58 million more than ministers plan.

It ruled the allocations were unlawful because ministers failed to comply with the public sector equalities duty, and the judge described the situation as “bizarre”.

Mr Healey added: “The Government have completely distorted the funding purpose and the budget for the nine English transition regions, resulting in some wealthy, more developed regions receiving significantly more funding from the EU in this proposed seven-year period than the transition regions, which have a much lower GDP.”

He accused Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of being “asleep on the job when the decisions were taken in government.”

The MP said: “He is allowing ministers to pull the wool over his eyes. He has not been standing up for South Yorkshire.”

Mr Healey said he intended to press Business Secretary Vince Cable for the meeting he had requested with him earlier in the month, and said this should take place before any new decision was taken.

Mr Healey and Ms McAvan also intend to draw the new developments to the attention of Commissioner Hahn, who they discussed this issue with in Brussels in July, and who as European Commissioner for the Regions will have to approve ministers’ plans.

Sheffield and Liverpool city regions are taking the case to the appeal court.

Mr Healey said: “We will not let this matter rest. We will take it all the way.

“I urge the Secretary of State to take a fresh and deep view of this set of decisions. He should revise those decisions now rather than being forced to do so later.”

Responding, Dr Cable said: “These are difficult decisions, and we derived a methodology that we believed to be fair. These were not arbitrary decisions.

“We must obviously act lawfully in respect of the Court’s judgement, which we will now do.”

South Yorkshire’s economy has a GDP of just 84 per cent of the UK average and the government’s allocation as it stands is worth €117 per head. But well-heeled Cheshire and Warrington – which has a GDP of 119 per cent of the average and covers the Chancellor’s constituency – is due to receive €157 per head.

Coventry and Warwickshire would get €254 per head, but the biggest benefit will be felt in the chief secretary to the treasury’s area of the Highlands and Islands. The region will receive €741 per head – over six times more cash than South Yorkshire.

Ministers announced in March they would cushion Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales from “sudden and significant” cutbacks in EU funding by limiting any loss to a maximum 5 per cent. Most of the money to fund this pledge is coming from funding meant for ‘transition areas’ like South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire has benefited from two rounds of European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) since 2000, contributing to projects such as Sheffield’s ‘Heart of the City’ and train station redevelopments, Barnsley’s transport Interchange, Doncaster’s civic and cultural quarter and Rotherham’s advanced manufacturing park.