Counties miss out on �1.4bn investment

Business ministers have been accused of “ignoring” the East of England in the Government’s latest round of enterprise funding.

Whitehall came under fire for largely overlooking the region in its second batch of handouts designed to encourage enterprise, growth and jobs in the private sector, with no investment made in Suffolk or Essex.

Just two schemes in the East of England – which includes Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire as well as Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk – and only seven in the entire South East, were among more than 100 successful bids for a share in the �1.4 billion Regional Growth Fund (RGF), which the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills hopes will help create and safeguard more than 200,000 jobs across England.

The latest investment of �950m aims to stimulate growth in the private sector while supporting communities more dependent on the public sector but local critics last night complained the region had again been neglected, after just one scheme – Chelmsford technology solutions company e2v – was chosen from 50 bids during the first round of funding in April.

Norfolk-based Lotus Cars and Luton Borough Council will benefit from a �10.4m and �20m injection but, with only two bids accepted from a total of 34, Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East, felt the rest of the region was losing out, while the North East saw 14 projects approved in the first round and 49 announced yesterday. He added: “While I welcome the fact that Luton, Lotus and e2v have been successful, overall the picture is bleak. This is the latest in a long line of kicks in the teeth for our region.

“We are consistently losing out on cash for jobs and growth and local businesses are being left to dangle in the wind. The RGF should be re-named the Regional Going-without Fund as here in the East we are seeing nothing but empty promises.”

A spokeswoman for the Department said the allocation of money was proportionate to the number of applications submitted but also “depended entirely on the quality of bids”.

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But Neil Stock, leader of Tendring District Council, labelled the lack of investment in Essex “a disgrace”. He said: “It’s a massive missed opportunity and it’s been a concern of mine that successive governments have their blinkers on when it comes to the east of England. It’s really quite a disgrace.

“We might be in the south, in a generally affluent region, but we have the most deprived area in the country in our district and a lot of coastal poverty. We need that funding to kick-start a change in these areas. We have had some bids but they are just being ignored.

“We are trying to lobby central government on the whole issue of coastal poverty. I am meeting with the Planning and Housing Ministers next week to talk to them about Tendring because we need help and we’re not getting it at the moment.”

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, which promotes local economic growth, meanwhile raised concerns about what it called “continued regional bias”, despite welcoming the Government’s decision to award funding to Lotus, creating at least 1,000 jobs at its Norfolk headquarters and another 800 in the supply chain.

Andy Wood, the chairman, said: “In New Anglia’s outline business plan produced at the start of the year, we identified securing Regional Growth Fund support for Group Lotus as a very important priority.

“I am delighted that the work undertaken by us and other partners has helped secure this vital funding which will in time create more than 1,000 jobs in this key sector.”

“Whilst we are pleased with the success for Group Lotus – we are disappointed that other parts of the country continue to be given preferential treatment for funding from the Regional Growth Fund.”