Coalition downplays regional growth cuts

By Alex Stevenson

The government has unveiled the first round of its three-year funding to help struggling businesses, but Labour has accused ministers of refusing to invest in growth.

Only one in nine business projects applying for £450 million of regional growth fund money were successful, the opposition pointed out, as Nick Clegg said he was “bowled over” by the quality of the winners.

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, over 27,000 jobs will be directly created and safeguarded under the expanded public investment.

Fifty bids by companies and partnerships who demonstrated how they would create jobs were successful, opening up over £2.5 billion of private sector investment to help the economic recovery.

But there were 464 projects worth £2.78 billion which were submitted, Labour said. It pointed out the total £1.4 billion being spent over three years was less than the annual spending of its regional development agencies, which were scrapped by the coalition.

“Today is a step towards rebalancing our economy away from an unhealthy overreliance on a small number of industries and a few areas,” deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said.

“We need to spread opportunity across the whole country, drawing on our many talents. I know that with the right support these businesses can work with their communities and together play their part in leading the country back into prosperity.”

The south only received eight per cent of the overall bids, however, with the south-east and the east of England having to share one project between them.

“By cutting funding for regional growth by two thirds the Tory-led government is choking off the funding needed for regions to grow and create the jobs our economy needs,” shadow business secretary John Denham commented.

“Labour would have added an additional £200 million to the funding today through a repeat of the bankers bonus tax, a quick but effective way of supporting growth and creating jobs.

“Vince Cable will have to explain why hundreds of viable projects for growth won’t go ahead across the country.”

The business secretary said the regional growth fund was “competitive”.

“We wanted to see proposals that created jobs in the private sector, in areas of deprivation and that is at risk of suffering from public sector cuts,” he explained.

“I’m confident that the successful bids we have chosen will deliver on this.”

Successful bidders will now face a due diligence process before the government finally provides the money. Projects include the construction of a manufacturing plant on the Lotte Chemical site in Teesside, expansion of the Haribo factory near Wakefield and the development of a former eye hospital in Manchester into a biomedical centre of excellence.

The government had originally only planned to make £250 million of funding available in the first round. This was increased to £450 million “to ensure the benefits to the economy are realised as quickly as possible”.