EC approves six more years of grant support

European grant funding worth £521m for the North West over the next six years has been officially approved by the European Commission.

The approval, days before Christmas, will be particularly welcome in Merseyside where 40% of the funding will be spent.

Merseyside will have its own ring-fenced programme worth £212m of the total as it eases out of the Objective One programme for the first time since the mid-1990s.

The value of the funding allocation is far lower than in previous rounds due to the redirection of aid to the new member states in Eastern Europe.

The latest round will see the end of Objective One, Two and Three programmes which have assisted development in much of the country for many years. Instead, a single regime and application process for all European Regional Development Fund monies will apply.

The announcement paves the way for £1bn of investment in the North West between 2007 and 2013, once matched funding from UK Government and private sector companies is taken into account.

The North West Development Agency will administer the programme, whose targets include 26,700 net additional jobs, improving the region's annual GVA by £1.17bn by the end of the period and a 25% reduction in additional CO2 emissions generated from programme investments.

The role is a new one for the NWDA, the ERDF previously having been handled by the Government Office for the North West.

Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the NWDA, said: "The management and delivery of ERDF funding in the North West is a significant new role for the agency and this approval today is a superb end to 2007 and will ensure the region gets off to an excellent start in 2008."

The North West Operational Programme, as the NWDA terms it, has four priorities and 11 action areas (see below). Its focus is on supporting and enhancing the competitiveness of the region, with a secondary focus on the creation of the "right conditions for growth".

The NWDA said a Programme Management Committee (PMC) has been formed to monitor delivery, made up of 25 representatives from across the region including Government officials, politicians, higher education managers, the trade unionists and members of the private and voluntary sectors.

David Malpass, the newly appointed director of the European programme, will be in charge of the NWDA's dedicated team running the ERDF regionally.

Keith Barnes, regional director of GONW and chairman of the PMC, said: "This [approval] is testament to the strong relationships between the North West region, central Government and the European Commission. The North West PMC are looking forward to helping to deliver a significant European Programme for our region."

José Palma Andrés, director of UK ERDF programmes at the European Commission, said: "The programme is firmly embedded in the Lisbon Agenda which aims to boost economic growth and the creation of higher value jobs across the European Union. The programme is designed to improve the overall competitiveness of the North West England economy, hence the pronounced focus on innovation and enterprise development."

The NWOP Priorities and Action Areas

PRIORITY 1 -Stimulating Enterprise and Supporting Growth in Target and Markets

PRIORITY 2 -Exploiting Innovation and Knowledge

PRIORITY 3 – Creating the Conditions for Sustainable Growth

PRIORITY 4 – Growing and Accessing Employment

ACTION AREA 1-1. Developing high value new enterprise

ACTION AREA 2-1. Exploiting the science and R&D base of the region

ACTION AREA 3-1. Exploiting the economic potential of major gateways in Merseyside

ACTION AREA 4-1. Stimulate enterprise in disadvantaged communities and under-represented groups

ACTION AREA 1-2. Developing higher added-value activity in target regional sectors

ACTION AREA 2-2. Encouraging innovation to improve productivity in all companies

ACTION AREA 3-2. Developing high quality sites and premises of regional importance

ACTION AREA 4-2. Supporting linkages to key employment areas

ACTION AREA 1-3. Increasing sustainable consumption and production

ACTION AREA 3-3. Supporting the improvement of the region's visitor offer and image

ACTION AREA 4-3. Supporting employment creation for areas of regeneration need

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