From education to employment

Cash injection to develop business and employment

The South West of England Regional Development Agency has received a whopping £170m cash injection from the European Regional Development Fund in a bid to strengthen its commercial frontier over the next six years.

Schemes carried out through agencies such as Jobcentre Plus, Learning Skills Council, Trades Union Congress and the private sector, will primarily focus on nurturing businesses with high-growth potential that will offer higher-paid jobs across a range of sectors, especially environmental technology. However, an additional £156.8m programme has been launched by SWRDA to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sectors in the region.

The cash flow will be made effective through commissioned projects rather than individual businesses in order to improve the region’s knowledge by enhancing the links between commerce and further education.

A spokesperson for SWRDA said that they believe the commissioning approach is key to the success of the programme as it will be pro-active in calling for specific investment proposals that will deliver the activities linked to its ambitions. This will help ensure that the investment is carefully targeted to maximise its impact.

Each region of the UK has an ERDF Competitiveness Programme to support and encourage greater competitiveness and productivity across their economies. However, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly of South West England have been the only recipients of this year’s ERDF-Convergence funding because of their poorer economic performance.

The South West’s ERDF Competitiveness programme will mainly focus on business competitiveness and employment since these are considered as key areas to make the EU more competitive at global level. It will also aim to increase the level of enterprise in some of the regions most deprived neighbourhoods (such as those in Plymouth, parts of Bristol and Torbay) in a bid to develop businesses there.

Director of European Programmes at the SWRDA, Phil McVey, who launched the scheme at the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter, said: “The money will support business growth initiatives, activities aimed at increasing innovation and exploiting the strengths of regional science, research and development.”

Welcoming the funding wholeheartedly, Jeremy Filmer-Bennett, chief executive of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council explained:

“Were delighted the money is coming through and that some 35 per cent is coming to the far South West.

“We are concerned that, as yet, there does not appear to be a mechanism to engage with the business community at any level about this. If half the money is supposed to come this way, one would hope – and I am sure it will – that the SWRDA will engage with the business community as to how it will deliver the programme.”

Funding worth £2.1 billion doled out by ERDF to unlock overall England’s potential of business aims to boost the EU “Growth and Jobs” agenda (often known as the “Lisbon Agenda”) and as a result, many operational programmes have been designed by the nation’s respective RDAs to make this mission a success. Besides, the funds will be used to support a range of projects focused on increasing regional economic performance and productivity, as well as reducing intraregional disparities including: support for enterprise creation and business growth initiatives, activities aimed at increasing innovation and exploiting regional science and R&D strengths, and support for resource efficiency measures.

Rinku Chatterjee

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