EADT ‘Letter from Brussels’ - Excellent economic prospects for the East of England
In this 'Letter from Brussels' Geoffrey looks at the changes being made to drive economic growth in the region.
As your MEP I fight hard on the big national issues, all of which bear directly on the East of England – reshaping our relationship with Europe and giving the British people a vote on the European Union; demanding tough immigration policies while ensuring that the needs of our industries and universities are met; cutting welfare abuse; and opposing EU meddling in defence. Most importantly, I do all that I can to help get our local economy moving.
We are now seeing economic growth. To sustain it we need to tap into every useful source of funding, including from Europe. We have already succeeded in cutting the EU budget, now we need to ensure that so-called “EU funding” – effectively British taxpayers’ money recycled through Brussels - is well used for projects that will add to the success and prosperity of the East of England in the years to come. It’s not small change. In the past 5 years some £263 million came to our region. There have been many useful projects but the process has been mired in bureaucracy.
One of my first pleas when I was elected as an MEP was to involve business – the drivers of our economy – in the key decisions about spending the “EU funds”. As a first step, in 2012, the Government swept away the Regional Development Agencies and replaced them with “Local Enterprise Partnerships” or LEPs, that would be business-led.
Five LEPs now cover the East of England and they will play even more of a role in driving economic expansion through the Local Growth Fund and by taking control of local EU funding. Already we have seen stalled infrastructure and housing projects being unlocked. Innovative businesses such as Pipeshield, a supplier of sub-sea pipeline protection systems in Lowestoft and the advanced technology company e2v in Chelmsford, are being supported. Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft have been designated as “Enterprise Zones” along with Alconbury and Harlow. The new “City Deal” for Greater Ipswich, announced last Wednesday, will deliver over its lifetime some £10 million new local investment in skills, 5,000 new apprenticeships, 3,000 new high value jobs, 400 new businesses and £100m private sector investment .
The East of England is now in an exceptionally strong position to help power growth and innovation in our economy with its internationally recognised clusters in life sciences, ICT and advanced manufacturing; as the most diverse energy region in the UK, with immense opportunities in offshore wind, nuclear generation and carbon capture and storage; as an outstanding research base, and the highest rate of business R&D investment of any part of the UK; and the lowest unemployment rate of any region at 5.9%.
I am optimistic that we will get our relationship with the EU on the right footing, we will control immigration, and most importantly, we will increasingly see the benefits of economic growth.