Cash boost for region's businesses

Shaun LowthorpeBusiness secretary Lord Mandelson yesterday unveiled a �5.5m package of EU cash to promote low carbon businesses in the East of England, declaring that the regions were crucial to the country's economic recovery.Shaun Lowthorpe

Business secretary Lord Mandelson yesterday unveiled a �5.5m package of EU cash to promote low-carbon businesses in the East of England, declaring that the regions were crucial to the country's economic recovery.

At a launch event at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in London, Lord Mandelson said all English regions would share in a �64.4m package of funds to deliver a recovery "driven by growth in the regions of our country in which the benefits of future prosperity are shared across all the regions of the country".

But shadow business secretary Ken Clarke denounced the New Industry, New Jobs and Growth strategies as an election gimmick, claiming that unemployment in the region was up by 15pc since Labour took office in 1997.

In the East of England, businesses will be able to apply for the grants after the East of England Develop-ment Agency (Eeda) was allocated extra cash from the European Regional Develop-ment Fund by the Depart-ment for Business Innova-tion and Skills to fund research and development into innovative low-carbon products or processes.

Deborah Cadman, chief executive of Eeda, said the grants would bring the level of support for firms in the region to �50m. And Eeda was also keen to help translate research and development ideas into jobs in the region, particularly in areas such as the offshore industry, engineering, and life sciences, where Norfolk and Suffolk firms play a key role.

"The package of grants and incentives will drive the East of England towards a low-carbon future, creating jobs, generating wealth and raising skills and aspirations in this fast-growing economic sector," she said.

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"We want to take companies through to the next stage and support them. What we are finding is that businesses are developing some phenomenal ideas, but they can't go to the next stage because of a lack of venture capital or lack of private and public investment."

Lord Mandelson said the region was leading the way in areas such as life sciences, but he wanted to ensure that future growth was spread across the country.

"Without the RDAs I don't believe we in the government would be able to spread that economic growth and jobs across the country in the way that we are doing now," he said. "To my mind the RDAs are absolutely indisp-ensable in our ability to generate growth and jobs and to see every region in our country have a share of that growth and prosperity."

The Tories have suggested they will scrap quangos such as Eeda if they win the general election, though they have also hinted they may stay where there is popular regional support for them.

Mr Clarke said: "Peter Mandelson's regional showcase is nothing more than a shameless election gimmick, like all Peter's other announcements this is all rhetoric and no substance. This is not new money; it seems to be money raided from RDA budgets and so already meant for the regions anyway, with fancy new packaging.

"Taxpayers have funded this PR exercise, paying for unelected RDA chairs to travel here and boast about their successes. The sad truth is that unemployment in the East of England increased by 15pc between 1997 and 2009.

"Conservative plans to cut corporation tax, cut red tape, abolish tax on new jobs and make small business rate relief automatic will be a boost to all the regions in England, especially in the East."

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