What Has Brussels Ever Done for Us?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 16th February, 2009
Yesterday afternoon I was out surveying in Bethnal Green with Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats, finding out which issues are of major concern to residents. As anyone who takes part in such activities knows, even at a time of economic recesssion, it’s often very local matters like rubbish collection or anti-social behaviour that bother people most. As one of the ward members (and Council group leader), Councillor Stephanie Eaton, was with me and the rest of the team, those were amongst the things she could follow up.
As a European candidate out on the doorstep, though, I often get asked, in an echo of the famous line about the Romans from The Life of Brian, ‘What has Brussels ever done for us?’ In the case of Tower Hamlets, for one, I can truthfully reply: ‘A lot!’ Between 2000 and 2006, the borough received 17 grants totaling millions of pounds from the European Social Fund (for projects as varied as Bridging the Digital Divide, Leaside Regeneration and the Creative Entrepreneurs’ Training Partnership), and even more from the European Regional Development Fund (for the Spitalfields Small Business Association, The Environment Trust, Tower Hamlets College and others). As one of London’s poorest boroughs, Tower Hamlets has rightly received more than most areas of the capital, of course, but an enquiry to the local Council (preferably by a councillor) will elicit details of European funding in your area. Few Councils (in London, at least) actually publicise this funding adequately, so it is not surprising most people are unaware of it.
Since the ‘big bang’ enlargement of the European Union, to take in 10 mainly poorer member states from central, eastern and southern Europe, the European funding structure has changed and less money is available for more affluent countries like Britain. But one of the things I’ll be doing in the run-up to the Euro-elections is monitoring what funds are coming into London from Brussels and letting people know (as the Labour government singularly fails to do so sufficiently).