Please sir, can I have some more?
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The regions of England need a good meal, not the crumbs that Nick Clegg's Regional Growth Fund is providing.
The Regional Growth Fund has closed its doors for the third time on applications from English businesses looking for a chunk of the £2.4 billion fund.
As a process, the Fund has been operating across England since early 2011 supporting private sector programmes which it believes create economic growth and sustainable employment. It has an emphasis on backing projects in areas where there is a heavier dependency on the public sector, to help aid a shift towards private enterprise.
Of the 956 proposals that have been put to the Regional Growth Fund in the first two rounds, some 176 bidders have been told they have been successful. According to the Fund, in a very ineloquent way, the bidders ‘will leverage over £7.5 billion of private sector leverage and deliver around 330,000 jobs’. But the fact remains the Regional Growth Fund is not quite the roaring success the government would like it to be.
Diving back into the process’ two previous rounds shows that there has been a decline in the number of applications made by English businesses. They attracted 464 and 500 bids respectively, compared to 409 applications for the latest tranche.
This apparent decline in enthusiasm is a worry, but a greater concern is the slow rate of deployment of the promised funds. From the first round, 27 contracts have been signed meaning only half of the successful applications have been given access to a share of the Regional Growth Fund to start projects. That means that only 29 per cent of successful applicants from the first two rounds are in possession of the funds that they initially set out to secure.
While there is no doubt that in the long run more contracts will be signed and further capital allocated, the Regional Growth Fund is proving a slow process at best. With the latest employment figures showing that public sector employment has dropped to its lowest level in nine years, the need is now more urgent than ever for the efforts of the Regional Growth Fund to bear fruit.