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Why is the East being ignored by Westminster and what needs to change?

PUBLISHED: 09:44 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:33 31 July 2019

The East is still be ignored by those in Westminster. MPs Norman lamb and Peter Aldous say this needs to change. Photo: Archant/Getty Images.

The East is still be ignored by those in Westminster. MPs Norman lamb and Peter Aldous say this needs to change. Photo: Archant/Getty Images.

Archant

Suffolk and Norfolk are lagging behind the rest of the country and must stand up and fight to secure future prosperity.

Norman Lamb. Photo: Denise Bradley.Norman Lamb. Photo: Denise Bradley.

That is the stark message business leaders and politicians have today delivered to East Anglia.

The latest example of a missed opportunity comes from the world of agri-tech farming.

Through Eastern Agri-Tech's Growth Initiative millions of pounds in funding is up for grabs each year to boost innovation across the agriculture sector.

Grants of up to £150,000 are on offer to help firms across Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk produce ground-breaking techniques and products.

Agri-tech firms across Suffolk and Norfolk have missed out on millions. Photo: Getty Images.Agri-tech firms across Suffolk and Norfolk have missed out on millions. Photo: Getty Images.

And while almost £6m has been dished out between the counties since 2014/15, Cambridgeshire has received £1m more than Suffolk and Norfolk combined.

Cambridgeshire has been awarded £3,417,508, Norfolk got less than half of that with £1,628,030, and Suffolk trails far behind with £637,307.

While the initiative is run by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, it has strongly refuted any suggestion its location had any influence over where the money would go.

So why is there such a huge difference?

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East. Picture: AGRI-TECH EASTDr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East. Picture: AGRI-TECH EAST

Put bluntly Suffolk and Norfolk firms simply aren't asking for the money.

An Eastern Agri-Tech spokesman said: "It is not a commissioned-led scheme and therefore is reliant on applications coming forward from eligible businesses across the sector.

"All applications are handled in an even-handed way and judged on their individual merits irrespective of where the application comes from.

"There is absolutely no bias toward a particular area."

Richard Howitt MEP visits Claydon Drills in Wickhambrooke to talk aboout leaving the EU or remaining. L-R: Denise Claydon (Director and company secretary), Oliver Claydon (Ops Dir), Jeff Claydon (MD), Richard Howitt MEP and Spencer Claydon (Sales Director).Richard Howitt MEP visits Claydon Drills in Wickhambrooke to talk aboout leaving the EU or remaining. L-R: Denise Claydon (Director and company secretary), Oliver Claydon (Ops Dir), Jeff Claydon (MD), Richard Howitt MEP and Spencer Claydon (Sales Director).

The lack of applications from Suffolk and Norfolk businesses results in yet more missed opportunities for the region.

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East and a member of the programme board behind the funding scheme, is now urging the region's businesses to get involved and make the most of what is being offered to them.

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"One of the key strengths of the scheme is that it can get agri-businesses to try something new and the public support helps reduce both the technical and financial risk", she said.

Peter Aldous (Conservative MP for Waveney). Picture: House of CommonsPeter Aldous (Conservative MP for Waveney). Picture: House of Commons

"Businesses which have been successful in securing the funding have by and large have gone on to develop and expand as a result.

"This really can enhance a step change in competitiveness and productivity."

Likewise North Norfolk MP Sir Norman Lamb is calling on businesses to join the fight.

"Norfolk needs to fight for funding to provide itself with opportunities to develop agriculture business further and enable it to prosper in the future," he said.

Claydon Drills - Business supp - Claydon Drills is a family-run business near Newmarket. Pictured is MD Jeff Claydon.Claydon Drills - Business supp - Claydon Drills is a family-run business near Newmarket. Pictured is MD Jeff Claydon.

"As I'm in charge of the Science and Technology Committee I met with a group of Norfolk farmers who are using drone technology to help them with both cost effectiveness and environmental impact.

"It's clear that the government need to change the legislation around drones to fully maximise the potential of this technology.

"However, clearly we also need to be out there getting the funding for these projects so that we can take advantage of the new opportunities and technologies that are out there."

Waveney MP Peter Aldous agreed but while he could not criticise the local organisations distributing funding, he said the disparity in grants awarded was nothing new for the region.

"The East of England does not get a fair slice of government spending", he said. "If proper investments were made the East of England could be performing much better, especially if spending were to be brought up to the national average.

"There is a deficit in the eastern counties, in Suffolk in particular, and with the new government we need to be restating that cases forcefully. It has been suggested one of the reasons business have been hesitant to apply for funding in general is the amount of time-consuming paperwork attached."

Suffolk farmer Jeff Claydon, who founded Claydon Drills which develops and builds pioneering strip till seeding systems, agrees this could be part of the problem.

The company has previously used New Anglia LEP funding to expand its factory and is interested in accessing more funding from Eastern Agri-Tech.

He said: "More needs to be done to make the funding accessible including, less paperwork and more streamlined forms.

"From experience businesses are put off applying because of the amount of paperwork involved and this is a real problem."

However, the farmer still believes such funding is one of the best ways to aid business growth.

"Self-financed business expansion is tremendously difficult and risky to the business owners," he added. "Huge numbers of projects are heavily funded through Europe and it is brilliant to see when that investment is won in Suffolk."

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