On the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) website, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is hailed as being “focused on reducing economic disparities within and between member states by supporting economic regeneration and safeguarding jobs.” Sounds grand, but the reality is another example of taxpayers’ money being collected by an unaccountable European power then re-distributed to a narrow elite of chosen institutions and causes.
It emerged earlier this week that the fund hasn’t just been dishing out grants, but slapping fines on our institutions too. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DCLG, Bob Neill, replied to a question posed by Burton’s Member of Parliament, Andrew Griffiths, regarding how much money has been paid back by British organisations to the European Union as a result of breaches to the fund’s rules. Griffiths specifically referred to infringements relating to the publicity of the fund on the part of the organisations that received the financial support. Neill’s answer was nothing less than startling.
He revealed that in excess of £436,000 has been paid back to the EU by thirteen different organisations; Advantage West Midlands (AWM) and the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce being the worst hit. The latter organised an event without suitable acknowledgement of the ERDF contibution; a flat rate penalty of 10 per cent was imposed and £77,609 repaid. The former, thankfully soon to be wound up, received a £201,801 bill for not using the EU logo on area publicity material in an attempt to simplify its brand image.
Most recently, the University of Northampton was fined £56,477 by penny-pinching bureaucrats after it failed to display the European Union logo outside a building whose facilities had been part-funded by the ERDF. Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North, criticised the fine as “astronomical” and demanded the EU return the cash:
“It’s outrageous. These European dictocrats shouldn’t be worrying about their egos or wasting taxpayer’s money on investigating these matters. This is British taxpayer’s money being wasted on absurd self-publicity. There’s not an ounce of common sense being used here.”
These fines ultimately come out of the pockets of British taxpayers; we’re being stung once for contributions to the EU, which are then handed to the ERDF before being handed back to us, and then again when we’re fined for not following their petty rules. Outrageous. Why does the European Union insist so vigorously on promoting itself and its brand? Why must individual member states be forced to assume an additional financial burden to the already monumental sums they already contribute annually for Union membership?
In Neill’s answer, the full version of which can be found here, he said:
“We have to operate existing ERDF programmes according to the regulations. However, the Government believe that the regulations should be focused on ensuring that ERDF meets its objective of promoting economic competitiveness. We will be arguing strongly with the Commission that in the next programme, penalties for things that do not contribute to this objective, such as failing to publicise the programme, should be swept away.”
British taxpayers will be astounded at this current situation. Thankfully, the Government is slowly waking up to this and we can only hope that it will apply sufficient diplomatic pressure to make sure this nonsense is stopped. The EU truly is bloated if it can afford the time and money to waste on pathetic pedantry and bothering people for not flying the right flag or displaying the correct logo.