Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. David: On the critical issue of funding, does my hon. Friend agree that although it is very easy for the European Commission to make all sorts of wild promises about how much money it would like to give out, in reality it has no money to allocate? Everything depends on the Council of Ministers, so any commitments given by the Commission are purely hypothetical.

Ms Atherton: That is the point, which is why I approached the Chancellor and various Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and the Regions, and told them that Cornwall is the only region in the UK that stands to get the full tranche of objective 1. Although many of my colleagues representing other regions will rightly argue their case—some of them are here this evening—I am very concerned that the special nature of Cornwall be recognised, and I am delighted that this Labour Government have made that pledge.

Mr. Watts: Does my hon. Friend, who has championed this issue on Cornwall's behalf for many years, agree that it is very easy to get carried away with objective 1 and 2 funds? Frankly, Cornwall's ability to regenerate will be determined not by whether it has an objective 1 fund, but by whether the Government of the day provide the resources that this Government have provided since 1997. Such funding, although a helpful contribution, is a fraction of what is needed; it is not the main factor.

Ms Atherton: I entirely agree. There is probably more unanimity around the Chamber than is reflected in our debates—we all want the best for our constituencies. From my personal viewpoint, I am going for a win-win. I am going to debate with the Government, meet the Chancellor and other Ministers and argue the case. If we get more money via the UK Government, that is great, but I will want commitments on the time scales and match funding. I am pleased that Treasury Ministers and officials are meeting partners in Cornwall to make it work better. It is in everyone's interest to make the money work in the different parts of our regions that need it.

Andrew George: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Atherton: No, this is important.

On the question whether the money is to come from Europe, we need an answer soon. We need a commitment from the Government that they will continue to put money into a county that still needs their support. We have made huge strides and I am so proud of the way in which the county has risen to take up the challenge of objective 1 and made it work so well—for example, with the university, broadband, the urban regeneration company in my constituency and so forth. Much is going on, but there is a lot more to do. I look forward to receiving the Government's support in the future.

6.21 pm

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) on securing the debate. I know that he has been active in the
12 Jan 2005 : Column 395
all-party objective 1 group. We have made progress over the years on this issue and we are now at a critical point in securing the funding that objective 1 areas need.

Members who have already spoken have given a flavour of their own areas, constituencies and regions, and I should like to give a flavour of my area. The counties of Denbighshire and Conwy were not included in the original objective 1 bid for Wales, which was for 13 of the 22 counties. The Cardiff business school came up with some statistics, however, to prove that Denbighshire and Conwy did indeed have a low gross domestic product. That information was passed to the head of economics and economic development in Denbighshire, Gareth Evans, who forwarded them to me as the principal MP for the county. I then passed the statistics on to the research department of the House of Commons. When they were rejigged according to EUROSTAT standards, Denbighshire and Conwy came out even worse. Conwy had the lowest GDP in the whole of Wales—at 58 per cent., lower even than Cornwall. We were joint bottom with Bridgend, if I recall correctly.

I and my colleagues—my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas) and for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) and, indeed, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)—were able to lobby the then junior Minister with responsibility for objective 1 in Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), to consider the new statistics and allow Denbighshire and Conwy to become part of the objective 1 bid for Wales. To his credit, my right hon. Friend did that. Had he failed to do so, we would have been looking at a rejuvenated Flintshire and Wrexham to the east, an objective 1 area in the north-west of Wales and an objective 1 area in Merseyside. That would have left us hanging in the middle like a black hole for ever.

I am therefore very pleased that that junior Minister, now the Secretary of State for Wales and my boss, took that decision in the teeth of opposition from some senior nationalist politicians, not to mention some Labour politicians down in the south. The opponents believed that looking into that case at such a late stage would upset the applecart, result in EUROSTAT crawling all over us and jeopardising the entire objective 1 bid for Wales.

I hope that that gives the flavour of the history of objective 1 in my area. I like to feel, as do others, that I played a full part in securing objective 1 status for my region. I pay tribute to the House of Commons research department for supplying me with the statistics that proved critical in convincing the then junior Minister to accept Denbighshire and Conwy.

It is worth comparing the Labour record with the previous Conservative Government's record. They took away assisted area status from my area of north Wales, despite the fact that we had lost about 21,000 jobs as a result of the closure of the Shotton steelworks only 10 years before assisted area status was taken away from poor areas in north-west Wales. It is to the Labour Government's credit that Denbighshire and Conwy, and West Wales and the Valleys have objective 1 status.

We have made good use of the money that we have had over the past four years. We will have it for another two years, and it is important that we have a lengthy
12 Jan 2005 : Column 396
tailback—seven years, plus two—to make sure that we finish the job that we have started. The decline has gone on for 40 years in seaside towns such as Rhyl, Kinmel Bay, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno.

Mr. Watts: And Talacre.

Chris Ruane: And Talacre as well. We cannot reverse 40 years of decline in six years, which means that we must secure the funds for seven to nine years, to make sure that we can finish the job.

Mr. David : Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that central Government have given allocations to Wales over and above the Barnett formula has been crucial to the success of the objective 1 scheme in West Wales and the valleys? That has allowed match funding to take place.

Chris Ruane: I agree, and will deal with that point shortly.

What type of jobs have been created? The traditional industries in my part of north Wales are coal, agriculture and the work that goes on in seaside towns. They have been in slow decline over the past 30 years and the structural funds will allow us to change the structure of the north Wales economy.

That is happening in my constituency. An example is the St. Asaph business park, which was built by the previous Conservative Government at a cost of £11 million. The connecting flyover alone cost £2.5 million. The park was empty for seven years, with only 100 jobs in all. Since the Labour Government took office in 1997 and objective 1 status was granted, the number of jobs has risen to 2,500.

Those high-quality jobs could not have been secured without objective 1 funding. For example, the OpTIC project cost £15 million, of which £6 million came from objective 1 funding. It is an incubation and research centre, with 24 individual units. It will co-operate with the 35 existing electro-optic equipment companies in north Wales, which employ 2,500 workers. If one of those workers has a good idea, further research can be performed at the centre to assess its value. Successful ideas will be given a unit and allowed to grow. These companies will have an 80 per cent. survival rate over a five year period. That is an example of how high-quality jobs will replace the jobs in farming, mining and seaside towns. Every two years, 24 new high-tech companies start up in my area of north Wales. They will provide the sustainable jobs that we need for the 21st century.

The momentum created in the St. Asaph business park has attracted other firms. The Japanese firm TRB was the first ever foreign company to make inward investment in my constituency. The Austrian company Pachem has established an objective 1 factory in Rhyl's south-west ward. I was brought up in that ward, and it is in the top 5 per cent. of the poorest areas in Wales. That foreign investment will raise our profile around the world, because of objective 1.

Next Section IndexHome Page