Friday, 1 July 2016

Tory wrecking ball to cost Borders millions


So who will pick up the pieces and make good the negative financial fall-out from the EU referendum now that David Cameron has decided to throw in the towel and lead Brexiteer Boris Johnson seeks treatment for serious stab wounds inflicted by his good 'friend' Michael Gove?

After all Mr. Johnson told us time and time again during the campaign that the UK Government would make good any monetary losses brought about by an end to European largesse in the wake of a Leave vote. Cynics among you may have difficulty in believing such a glib promise from a shallow performer whose political career now lies in ruins.

Here in the Scottish Borders we've heard meaningless calls from business leaders and local politicians for a period of reflection even though Scotland voted overwhelmingly to retain membership of the European Union.

Surely the Conservative Government, whose leadership inflicted the referendum on us in a failed bid to settle internal Party squabbling and to quell the threat from the arrogant and objectionable Nigel Farage and his anti-Johnny Foreigner cohorts, should already be under pressure from areas like the Borders to guarantee levels of funding previously available from European sources.

The potential loss of funding for the local economy, for community schemes, for environmental improvements, and for agriculture adds up to a substantial sum. The Scottish Government can hardly be expected to fill the financial void having had its coffers raided year on year by the austerity-driven British Treasury.

No doubt the highly valued European Regional Development Fund [ERDF] and equally supportive European Social Fund [ESF] will cease to operate on Scottish soil once the nation is forced out of the EU along with the rest of the United Kingdom.

For Scotland, the 2014-2020 ERDF programme would have been worth £476,536,000 while the ESF would have brought in £464 million during the same time frame. A proportion of that money would have trickled down into Borders projects.

The latest allocations for the so-called Borders LEADER Fund for community groups and enterprise projects was worth £2 million with an additional £800,000 for a rural enterprise fund. Between 2007 and 2013 70 local projects benefitted as a direct result of EU financial assistance.

And in 2015 no fewer than 21,460 Scottish businesses - the largest proportion based in rural locations - collected Common Agricultural Payments worth £613 million. Even Mr. Johnson and his well-heeled mates will be hard pressed to make up those looming cash losses in the Scottish economy.

Access to a range of specialist EU funds will also dry up. So will the Tweed catchment be one of the first areas to suffer?

In a newly published annual report and accounts the Tweed Forum, which runs a number of environmentally beneficial projects throughout the Borders region and also on the River Till in North Northumberland, state: "One big achievement has been securing EU Interreg funding that will help support flood monitoring efforts over the next four years.

"Tweed Forum and the Scottish Government are part of a consortium including Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium that will be participating in the Building with Nature project. This will establish 'catchment laboratories' to evaluate the contribution that restoration can make to flood alleviation."

In light of the recent flood events in the Borders, notably in Hawick and Peebles, this sounds like an important and valuable initiative. But now it looks as though all of the lobbying and groundwork may have been a waste of time.

An announcement in February explained: "The Scottish Government, Tweed Forum and SEPA have secured additional funding of €400,000 over 4 years from the EU North Sea Region’s Interreg project Building with Nature.

"This money will be used to improve and build resilience into the Eddleston Water project monitoring network, which helps us collect scientific evidence to support the implementation of natural flood management measures. It also helps us collect additional data to improve our understanding of the multiple benefits of natural flood management."

No doubt other equally valuable projects will suffer once Scotland cuts its ties with Brussels. Which is why we need hard talking now to mitigate the devastating impact the loss of European funding will have on our cash-strapped region.

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