Town to lose key economic status

LOWESTOFT is now economically “too strong” for regional industrial aid, the Government says. Under draft changes announced yesterday , the Suffolk town is among six regions which lose their assisted area status.

LOWESTOFT is now economically “too strong” for regional industrial aid, the Government says.

Under draft changes announced yesterday , the Suffolk town is among six regions which lose their assisted area status.

It joins Halton and Ellesmere Port, South Manchester, North Warwickshire, Brighton and Hove and Edinburgh and West Lothian, which are also on the current map, drawn up seven years ago.

The percentage of the UK population covered by the status is set to drop from 30.9% to 23.9%, while in France it will decrease from 36.7% to 18.4%. In Spain, it will go down from 79.2% of the population to 59.2%, and in Ireland from 100% to 50%.

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Under the scheme, first introduced in the mid-1980s, companies in assisted areas are eligible for Government aid to create or safeguard jobs. Last year they received around £200million.

The news the Lowestoft could be dropped from the assisted area map has prompted a mixed reaction, with Waveney District Council warning that decreases to sources of funding would have a negative impact on the development and growth in Lowestoft and the sub-region

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Meanwhile,Waveney MP Bob Blizzard and the Suffolk Development Agency have reacted positively to the news, pointing out that the plans reflected its improving economic performance.

The drop in coverage was ordered by the European Union, partly to give more aid to the newer EU countries including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia.

“The decisions we have taken have been difficult because the UK has received reduced coverage. However, we believe our proposals reflect a good balance between the needs of Britain and the opportunities in Britain,” said Industry Minister Margaret Hodge.

Three disadvantaged regions in the UK that will automatically qualify for coverage are Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, West Wales and the Valleys and the Scottish Highlands and Islands, as well as the whole of Northern Ireland, while Merseyside and South Yorkshire will have their coverage reduced under a new map due to come into force next year.

“I don't think it'll make any difference at all,” said Mr Blizzard.

“I think the fact we don't qualify at all is a measure of the huge progress that has been made in Lowestoft in the last eight years or so. Basically, assisted area status is conferred upon parts of the country where there is high unemployment.”

But jobless figures in the Lowestoft area now stood at 3.3%, which was lower than the national average of 5.3%. This compared with 11.7% when he was elected in 1997, he said.

“I would rather have no unemployment at all, but I would rather have 3.3% and no assisted area status then 11.7% and getting it,” he said.

Initiatives such as the area's new Urban Regeneration Company, and Orbis, which was helping to make the town a centre for offshore wind technology, were helping to regenerate the area, he argued.

Julian Munson, acting chief executive at Suffolk Development Agency, also felt the decision could be viewed positively.

“The UK Government and EU funding that the Lowestoft area has received overall in recent years has helped contribute to improved economic success,” he said.

“Our figures show a significant drop in local unemployment and increased confidence from companies investing in the town and we believe that the area has turned a corner. That is not to say that there isn't work still to be done and the Suffolk Development Agency, with partners, will continue to lobby for improvements in transport infrastructure and promote the area for inward investment, for example.

“It is also important to stress that, despite this decision, Lowestoft will continue to benefit from other funding schemes and investment from the various projects already in the pipeline such as University Campus Suffolk, ORBIS Energy Business Centre and the various development proposals coming forward by regeneration company First East, presenting new commercial opportunities for the future of Lowestoft.”

But a Waveney District Council spokesperson said: “Any moves to reduce funding to the area are naturally to be regretted.

“Whilst there are positives to be taken from the fact that Lowestoft is now considered a far stronger and more rewarding environment for businesses, decreases to sources of funding will have a negative impact on the process of development and growth in Lowestoft and the sub-region.

“These proposals still remain at a consultation stage and we would hope that further consideration will be given to Lowestoft's own particular requirements.”

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