What has Europe done for the Fylde?

Pictures Martin Bostock The Tower headland, Blackpool Promenade.
Pictures Martin Bostock The Tower headland, Blackpool Promenade.

Thursday sees the nation go to the polls to decide whether Britain should remain part of the European Union, or leave.

So this week, we’ll be looking at the pros and the cons, the arguments to leave and the arguments to stay.

Today, we ask what has the European Union ever done for us?

Lancashire once deemed European funding streams so essential the county council opened an office in Brussels.

That closed in 2010, but millions of pounds have continued to pour into the county from the EU to fund projects ranging from town centre redevelopment and coastal defences to charity work.

There have been benefits both little and large, with big boosts for research and small businesses.

The whole point of the EU funding is that it does things that cannot be done with national budgets and aims to benefit all member states

The county as a whole has fared well in the latest funding rounds with some £211m allocated from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund for 2014 to 2020. Only London, Leeds, Manchester and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly received higher allocations.

But critics claim it is impossible to find out just how much money has come into the county because Euro funding streams are so complex.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: “A considerable amount of EU funding is aimed at policy areas where common (ie. multi-national) action can make a difference, like air quality, climate change or research (developing cancer treatments or anti-malaria vaccine).

“The whole point of the EU funding is that it does things that cannot be done with national budgets and aims to benefit all member states.

“By design, the EU regional funding is managed by the national authorities of member states.”

County Coun David Borrow, LCC’s deputy leader, points out that the British Government has recently applied for European funding to cope with the problems caused across the UK by flooding.

But looking at past funding, County Coun Geoff Driver, leader of the Tory opposition group on the council, said: “I’m sure Lancashire will have some money from Europe. My point is it would have been far better if the money had been given to us direct in the first place and then we used and determined what we spent it on.”

Where does all the EU money go?

Lancashire County Council has accessed an estimated £35m in EU funding since 2008.

Around £11.4m of this was used to help deliver superfast broadband across the county and around £10m went on business support, including help for small and medium sized enterprises.

The county council says this cash created 1,166 jobs, safeguarded a further 294, and grants to help rural businesses grow also created 290 jobs.

Lancashire also received £1.6m for a scheme aimed at reducing the number of young people not in education, employment and training.

Marketing Lancashire received £148,942 European grant between 2010-13 for tourism and rural food projects.

But the bulk of the county’s funding is distributed through the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. And the EU also makes payments directly to other organisations.

Blackpool used its £25m-plus allocation over the past decade to fund major infrastructure projects including boosting the sea defences, The Tower Headland development including the creation of an events space outside the Tower, ensuring the town’s trams stay on track and projects such as the council’s purchase of The Winter Gardens and the purchase and maintenance of Blackpool’s famous Tower.

And in Cleveleys, £500,000 ERDF funding paid for much-needed work on the promenade.

Boost Business Lancashire is a county ERDF-backed Business Growth Hub which opened in 2013 and offers access to business support programmes.

And when it comes to research, Lancashire secured €55,652,739 between 2007-2013 and has so far secured €14,789,520 under its successor Horizon 2020, which has just started.

Nearly £23m in European Union cash has helped fund specialist programmes at Lancaster University over the last seven years.

UCLan successfully claimed more than £10 million from the last European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding round.

Various reasons for fishing issues

Fleetwood’s fishing industry was decimated by a combination of factors, starting with the Icelandic Cod Wars.

Ken Hayton of Midland Fish Company in the town says it was not Europe, but a combination of factors, which account for its later death as an active fishing town.

The wholsale fish merchant has seen the family businesses – which also include a trawler agency – change with fish no longer landed, but still auctioned here.

He said: “I don’t know if Europe has affected it as such or whether it’s just natural wastage over the years. With certain species of fish it’s not become economic or viable for people to catch them.

“A lot of people will say EU rules and regulations have done it, but it’s difficult to pin down to be fair. There are fish quotas – some fishermen will argue they are better off.

“But I have seen a lot of people go out of the business.”

‘Major reservations’ about state of Europe

Chris Sandham is not saying “cheese” when it comes to Europe.

The Managing Director of JJ, Sandham Ltd is concerned there isn’t much to smile about – despite his long-established family cheese-making business at Garstang Road, Barton, having received 40 per cent funding towards a new smokehouse four years ago. While grateful for the funding which had to be matched by their own 60 per cent investment, he is cautious about the state of the European Union now.

He said: “The funding has been very useful and beneficial.”

He says from the company’s point of view it has been a great success, but confesses: “I feel I’ve got a bit of an issue here. I’ve had major benefit from European funding, but I’ve got major reservations about the EU.

“I just think it’s a broken model and I must admit I’m erring on the side of exit. I don’t see how it can effectively carry on.”

He is also concerned because he says in the ongoing crossfire of the current EU debate it’s hard to know who to believe with so many conflicting claims and statistics.

“I think it’s a vote the public shouldn’t be having,” he said.

“Alot of people don’t understand what it is about. We don’t know the implications.”

Farmers union: Best to remain

The National Farmers Union represents nearly 1,800 Lancashire farmers. While stopping short of telling them how to vote, its council has concluded that it is in the best interests of British agriculture to remain in the EU.

Europe has bolstered the income of Lancashire’s upland farmers in the north and east of the county as they have struggled to make a living over the last decade.

Adam Briggs, the NFU’s County adviser for Lancashire said that concerns about future trading relationships and what the removal of the CAP {(Common Agricultural Policy) would mean for UK farmers were paramount.

He explained: “More than a third of our lamb (38 per cent) goes to Europe, so will that still be there? There are a lot of sheep in Lancashire and the sheep industry is quite heavily dependent on Europe.”

The single market provides access to 500m consumers – with more than 70 per cent of UK agri-exports going into Europe.

Farmers eligible for subsidy qualify for a basic payment scheme or may get an environmental scheme payment for such things as caring for their land in an eco friendly way, protecting water courses and keeping land capable of producing food.

Moorland land qualifies for a payment of £47.58 a hectare and land designated “severely disadvantaged less favoured area” gets £180.07 a hectare.

Adam predicted that if the subsidies go: “ It will be a big upheaval in the hill farming sector.”

But he said horticulture feels the “regulatory burden” of Europe and there are concerns about the availability of labour with growers relying on employing migrant workers seasonally. If that flow of labour ceased he predicted a big impact on farmers. Abattoirs also rely on a lot of overseas labour.

He said another big issue was that even out of Europe we will still be bound by industry regulations if selling in the EU.

“We’ll have no say on what those standards are but still have to adhere to them.

“We’re not telling people how to vote. We’re just saying look at it because we don’t really know what it will look like outside – it’s a big step.

“Given what we know and don’t know, British agriculture would be better staying in Europe”.

Funded projects

Projects, little and large, have been boosted by European Regional Development(ERDF) Rural Development Programme(RDF) funding.

These have included:

Lancashire Growth Hub: £3,622,989

LEAP High Growth: £900,000

The North West Eco-Innovation Programme: £1,734,537

Development of Innovative Small Wind Turbine Technologies: £1,077,372

Infolabs Strategic Innovation Support Programme (ISISP): £1,975,314

Innovation Lab: £1,154,672

Lancashire Innovation Network: £1,855,000

UNITE for Business: £3,871,834

Tower Festival Headland Enhancements: £2,666,527

Blackpool Leisure Assets Purchase and Development: £14,000,000

Blackpool Seafront Parade 5: £703,151

Business Start Up Support in Lancashire (BSUS Lancashire): £2,393,877

Rural Development Funding paid for Hamilton House Rural Workshops: £37,254

Community at the Wharf in Burscough: £14,717

Logs Direct: £29,363

Caton with Littledale Action for Play: £17,258

Kirkham Memorial Park:£ 21,579

Great Eccleston Scout Hut: £75,000

Dolphinholme Playground: £8,589

Lancashire Racing Stables: £50,705

Fiddlers Lancashire Crisps: £75,000

Forshaw’s Salads: £35,107.00

Lancashire Community Finance: £4,707.00

Old Holly Farm extension: £30,390.00

Brock Auction Mart: £12,108.00