The Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, Ian Stephens, a representative from the Isle of Wight Association of Local Councils (IWALC), Harry Rees, and the Island’s MP, Andrew Turner met Michael Fallon MP the Minister responsible for European structural funding in the UK on Tuesday.
The meeting was called following a recent joint approach to the Government setting out the case for additional EU funding to address the challenges caused by the Island’s separation by sea from the mainland. The problems faced by the Island and a number of funding streams were discussed during the meeting. The bid for the Island’s unique status to be recognised is supported by the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), neighbouring mainland authorities and local organisations including the Isle of Wight Association of Local Councils and the Island’s Chamber of Commerce.
The Government has decided that some structural and investment funds to promote sustainable growth will be distributed in future by LEPs. For the Solent area there is an allocation of £36.8m over the period 2014 to 2020 to be bid for by the LEP and its constituent local authorities. Other funding streams will be decided by the Government in accordance with EU rules. Consultation will commence shortly with regards to Assisted Area Status for the seven years commencing July 2014.
The Leader of the Council, Cllr Ian Stephens said:
“We asked for a meeting with Mr Fallon because we believe we should get more recognition for the unique economic challenges we face. I was therefore pleased that we were able to take our case directly to the Minister and explain how we are currently disadvantaged by being seen in the eyes of the EU as part of the generally more prosperous Hampshire region.
“We will be following this up with a strong bid for Assisted Area Status. Hopefully this application will be helped by the fact that we have explained first hand to a key Government minister the issues we face and how we are disadvantaged by current funding arrangements.
“The council has worked hard to gain wide support for this approach to Government. Such support will be crucial – for example the Solent LEP understands the importance of this issue to the Island and its economy and continues to support us in making representations to government. I have always believed that working together we have the best chance of success – so I would like to thank Andrew for organising this meeting at short notice. I am looking forward to working with him on this and other issues in the future.”
Mr Turner added:
“EU funding is ridiculously complex – and the silly, complicated rules don’t even deliver fair outcomes. For some statistical purposes the Island is viewed as part of Hampshire – for others we are a stand-alone unit – that closes doors to some funds but leaves others open. I would very much rather the UK Government was able to decide for itself which areas of the UK need extra help without reference to bureaucrats in Brussels – but until we are in that position I will work with others to get the best possible deal for the Island.
“I am pleased that the Island’s case is now firmly in the mind of the Minister – and as the process to decide which areas are to receive Assisted Area Status moves forward I will be keeping in touch with him informally and will be happy to arrange any other more formal meetings that are required.”