Sunday, 30 July 2017

EU funding stats and Cornwall

Somewhat belatedly, I am posting my article which was published in the 19th July edition of the Cornish Guardian. It was as follows:

Since 2000 Cornwall has received the highest level of structural funding from the European Union (EU), because its gross domestic product (GDP) was below 75% of the EU average.

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that Eurostat (the statistics office of the EU) had changed the way in which GDP figures are calculated and produced retrospective data going back to 2000.

This led to reports from the BBC that “Cornwall may not have been poor enough to justify receiving £1 billion of EU funding,” was “officially not that poor” and that the statistics were wrong.

This was, of course, nonsense but it was all replicated in a host of other media outlets. I have seen a Cornwall Council briefing which even described it as a “somewhat counterfactual situation.”

Eurostat has indeed adopted a new accounting system, but the revised figures for past years are based on the present-day 28-state EU.

In the late 1990s when Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly qualified for Objective One funding, there were only 15 states in the European Union. That was before the accession of a number of poorer countries, which significantly lowered the “per capita” economic performance across the whole of the EU. Likewise in 2006, when we qualified for Convergence funding, there were 25 states in the Union.

But moving away from the misleading headlines, Cornwall is still one of the poorest parts of the United Kingdom, and it is extremely worrying that it’s GDP for 2015 (the last year for which figures are available) is still only 76% of the EU average.

Of the 40 (NUTS 2) regions in the United Kingdom, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is ranked 37th, ahead of only South Yorkshire (75%), Tees Valley & Durham (74%) and West Wales & the Valleys (68%).

Compared to the other nations of the United Kingdom, Cornwall is also at the bottom of the pecking order where it is tied with Wales (76%) and below Northern Ireland (78%). Scotland is much more prosperous and the figures for England are well over 100% of the average.

But the tone of this debate does worry me greatly. I fear the impact it could have on future considerations about regional funding post-Brexit and limit the amount of investment that can be secured for Cornwall, its local communities and its local businesses.

We hear much from local MPs about the UK Government’s proposed “Shared Prosperity Fund” and how it will “recycle some EU money back into the economy,” along with their assurance that Cornwall will get a share.

That is not good enough, as we have no idea what this “share” would equate to. The evidence and the statistics demonstrate that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly should be a priority for investment, and we need cast-iron guarantees from central government that this will happen.

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