EU referendum: How region has benefited from EU cash

By David Rhodes
BBC News

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Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
EU money has been used to fund buildings and broadband schemes across the region

From the Egyptian pyramids to the cathedrals in York and Lincoln, buildings have always been used by the powerful to project their dominance.

The European Union hasn't directly built any buildings in our part of the world, but it has helped fund a lot of new developments, many of which come with a sign saying "built with money from the EU".

For some this is the EU projecting "power" in a different way.

The issues of money, power and buildings are interconnected, which is why the debate about how much money the EU spends in our region is important.

But what has the European institution spent in Yorkshire? And how much has Yorkshire and the Humber effectively paid in?

As with all the numbers in this referendum debate, they're hotly disputed by both sides.

If you account for the British rebate, the effective discount on our membership that Margaret Thatcher negotiated in 1984, the UK sent £12.9bn to the European Union in 2015.

As a very rough calculation, when you divide the UK's overall payment by the number of taxpayers in the region, Yorkshire and the Humber contributed about £1bn towards that overall amount.

In comparison, the Yorkshire and Humber received £747m (979m euros) in funding from the EU between 2007 and 2013, according to the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI).

If you accept the rough workings of this calculation, that means we gave the European Union more money in one year than we got back in the space of six years.

However, that doesn't take into account the indirect effect EU money has had on the region such as the additional jobs that have been created because an EU backed project got the go-ahead.

So what exactly has the money gone towards?

York University got the single biggest grant for a new building, with the EU providing £19m in match funding for a new science park.

But it's not just buildings that have been funded. Some £30m was spent on the roll-out of broadband across the region and in total the money has helped create 20,000 new jobs and 2,700 businesses, according to the government.

Was all that money well spent? Well that probably depends on your point of view of the EU as a whole.

'Take back control'

Vote Leave's John Longworth, the former head of the British Chambers of Commerce, says: "The investment that has come from Brussels is just our taxpayers' money recycled and then put towards projects that we might not want in the first place."

In many ways the debate is not about the amount of money being spent or the buildings being built but rather it is all about power.

Who is deciding where the money gets spent in the first place? Are the decisions being taken in Westminster or Brussels?

While visiting a manufacturing firm in Leeds, Mr Longworth summed up the Vote Leave position.

"We want to take back control so we can make our own decisions and take back the money that we give to Europe so we can invest it where we want.

"The beautiful thing about our democracy is that if you don't like the government you can throw them out. The thing with Europe is that with the bureaucrats in charge there is no democracy and you can't ever throw them out."

Image caption,
Mark Dransfield has benefited from EU cash to help develop a retail and office development in Sheffield

Those who want the UK to remain in the EU say there's no guarantee that future UK governments would spend the same on regions like ours.

Mark Dransfield says: "I look at the EU money as being a safety net for the North of England. Without EU funding lots of jobs simply wouldn't have been created in this part of the country."

His property company received £8m in EU funding to turn the site of a former steelworks in Sheffield into a new retail and office development.

"We're creating 900 new jobs here and without EU funding that sort of money just wouldn't come to our region, instead it would be wasted in London."

The latest figures show that per head of population, Yorkshire and the Humber received 3% less than the UK average when it comes to identifiable UK government spending in 2014/15.

Looking ahead, Yorkshire and the Humber is one of only two regions in the UK set to see the amount it receives from the EU fall over the next four years.

Between 2014-2020 the region is earmarked to get £606m (794m euros) - 18% less than the 2007-2013 funding period.

Looking back it's easy to say where money from the EU has been spent within Yorkshire and the Humber although it's difficult to quantify its impact.

It is, however, almost impossible to put a number on the ideas of national sovereignty or power. That is something voters will have to determine the value of themselves at the ballot box on 23 June.

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