There is still 'all to play for' as the current round of European aid nears the end and negotiations gather pace over the priorities for the next round, according to a policy paper prepared for Greater Manchester leaders.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority discussed the European regional Policy Update at its executive meeting on Friday.
The £520m European Regional Development Fund programme from 2007-2013 has 18 months left to run. There is £100m of uncommitted funding left to allocate to projects.
New targets and priorities have been agreed for the home stretch 'given the changed economic climate', the report's authors, Simon Nokes and Paul Evans of New Economy, Manchester's policy body, wrote.
The priorities for the remainder of the current programme are:
- Investment in the science/innovation base linked to new product opportunities
- Business Support Framework Themes stimulating business growth
- Superfast Broadband
- Promotion of clean urban public transport
- Low carbon infrastructure
- Place investment in key economic locations including public realm/site servicing
- Research and development, commercial floorspace, managed workspace to SMEs
- SME competitiveness and start-ups
A spokesman for the Department for Communities & Local Government, responsible for administering European state funds, said ERDF North West was on schedule to be fully allocated on time.
Negotiations had started on the 2014-2020 programme, for which the European Union has a €1tn budget but will be organised differently to the current round.
Changes to the organisation of funding in the next round could be the removal of ring-fencing for regions, meaning cities and regions compete at a national level for resources.
There is also likely to be an increase in the use of financial instruments such as the Jeremie venture funds and Jessica urban development funds.
The GMCA paper added: "The real issue will be the extent to which the UK Government uses some of the flexibilities it now has from the EC. Initial discussions with Government have broadly been positive, particular in relation to linking a GM integrated plan for EU funds with the City Deal. However there is still talk of running programmes on a national basis, with EU funds matched at source with major domestic funds, such as Technology Strategy Board funding. Our experience with a national European Social Fund programme [skills and training support] has not been good and it would almost certainly mean a lack of ability of GM to pursue its key priorities."
The five local enterprises partnerships have agreed a set of priorities for the North West in the next round. These include access to international markets through the growth of ports and airports, investment in superfast broadband, growing the visitor economy through sport and culture and low carbon housing in deprived areas.
The authors said there is 'everything still to play for, with a real opportunity for GM to influence the use of EU funds as part of an overall economic development plan and as part of the City Deal thinking. The next six to nine months will be crucial in determining how all EU funds will be used within England from 2014-2020. GM is already heavily engaged with Brussels and London on these issues, via New Economy.'
Greater Manchester will lobby hard for local and regional influence over public funds to continue. Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, is chairman of the European Strategy Group for the North West.
The report goes on: "This is not just about management of EU funds – it is about an overarching strategy of things where it makes sense for us to work together and where we would like a joined up conversation with Government about EU and Domestic resources.
"This is not about all parts of the North West doing the same thing – it is about working collaboratively to drive mutual reinforcing growth where it makes sense to do so. Whatever models of EU funds delivery are eventually decided upon the 5 LEPs will collaborate as appropriate in the delivery of economic priorities across the North West."
View the GMCA report here