EU debate round-up: Research funding, trade, fraud and wildlife

General Election count in Alnwick 2015'Julie Porksen'Picture by Jane Coltman
General Election count in Alnwick 2015'Julie Porksen'Picture by Jane Coltman

Since 2014, Northumberland has received more than £1million of EU research funding, figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats have shown.

A new EU science fund dedicated to small businesses has seen a number of small local firms given research grants worth between £40,000 and £2million.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid

Business Secretary Sajid Javid

One firm from Ashington – Railview – has been given funding to develop a portable radar system for inspecting railway infrastructure.

The figures also show that small businesses in the North East have received more than £23million of EU research funds in recent years.

More than 90 small firms in the region have received grants under the EU’s research science programme to do ground-breaking research and partner up with universities and companies across Europe.

Julie Pörksen, who stood as the Lib Dem candidate in the Berwick constituency last year, said: “Being in Europe allows our small businesses in Northumberland to really thrive. Nine in 10 small business exporters in the UK trade with Europe and many have received EU grants for ground-breaking research.”

Jonathan Arnott of UKIP.

Jonathan Arnott of UKIP.

“Cutting ourselves off from the EU, the world’s biggest economy, would make it harder for our start-ups to grow and innovate to become the big companies of tomorrow.”

Trade for smaller firms and the manufacturing sector

Figures show 1.2million small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) across the country are supported by exports to the EU, including more than 31,000 in the North East.

Revealing these numbers, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This shows yet again that small businesses across the North East are stronger, safer and better off in Europe.

“If we leave the EU, small firms are on the front line and that’s a gamble with people’s livelihoods I’m not willing to take. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Let’s not break that backbone with a leap into the dark.”

However, in a survey by Sage, 43 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises said that they do not export to the EU and that they currently have no plans to do so.

A quarter of respondents believe there would be no impact to their ability to trade with the EU in the event of a Brexit, with only four per cent saying they think there would be a significant impact.

Brendan Flattery, president of Sage Europe, says the true impact of a Brexit on UK exports has been a hotly-contested topic, adding: “The survey results demonstrate that for SMEs, which make up more than two-thirds of new jobs, representing an enormous proportion of the UK population, this is not a serious matter for concern.”

Meanwhile, a new report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows how more than 100,000 UK manufacturing jobs will be created by the EU’s single market by 2030, including 5,640 in the North East.

In the North East, there are 41,640 manufacturing jobs linked to trade with the EU. Of all sectors, manufacturing had most jobs liked to EU trade.

Former Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “In the North East of England, 5,640 jobs will be created should the UK choose to stay within the single market on June 23. Leaving the EU means those new manufacturing jobs just won’t be created.”

However, the Leave campaign says that the CEBR uses EU-commissioned estimates of future jobs to be created by the single market, which have been overly optimistic in the past.

John Longworth, chairman of the Vote Leave Business Council, said: “These daily threats are becoming absurd. The jobs they refer to don’t even exist – so how can they be at risk? Instead of listening to speculation from advisory groups, let’s look at what the job creators are actually telling us. Businesses up and down the country say that the costly red tape and regulations emanating from Brussels are constraining their ability to innovate and create jobs.”

“If we vote leave on June 23, we can change that and look forward to a more prosperous country and a faster-growing economy.”

Fraud: 675m reasons to leave

Figures showing that the European Union lost an estimated £675million to fraud last year are 675million more reasons why the UK should leave, said UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott.

“The fact that the figure lost is only 0.6 per cent of the EU budget demonstrates how monstrously huge and bloated the bloc has become and this situation will only get worse,” said the North East Euro MP.

Details from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) show that many of the 1,400 bogus claims investigated were concentrated in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, some of the trading bloc’s poorest states.

In its annual report, OLAF said the funds paid out to dishonest claimants had fallen by £10million compared with 2014. The organisation’s director-general, Giovanni Kessler, said he does not believe there is widespread corruption in how the funds are dispersed, but some feel that more should be done by member states to pursue those who defraud the EU.

Mr Arnott added: “It is all very well saying that the payments to dishonest claimants has fallen by £10milliom compared to the previous year, but it is still a lot of taxpayers’ money.

“And everyone knows that Turkey is beating on the gates to join the club adding another 77million people who will also be eligible for funds and have the freedom to come here.

“The bigger the EU becomes, with its seemingly insatiable expansionist plans, the greater the risk of fraud.”

Impact of Brexit on the enivronment, according to charities

Some of North East’s best-loved natural habitats and threatened species could be at risk if the UK votes to leave the EU, leading environmental charities have warned.

The RSPB and WWF last week issued a joint call to their members for Britain to stay in the EU, setting out the positive impact European legislation has had on the environment.

The EU’s nature conservation laws give special status to areas such as the Northumberland Coast, although part of the county’s coastline is also protected as an area of outstanding natural beauty, which is a British Government designation.

Local wildlife, including migratory birds, also benefits from strong EU protections that apply right across Europe.

Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, said: “We have always believed that, because nature transcends national boundaries, it needs cross-border cooperation to protect it and a common set of international standards that enable it to thrive.

“As the Prime Minister rightly points out, UK membership of the EU has benefitted nature and the environment in ways that would be hard to replicate if we left.

“The RSPB will not be telling people how to vote and we recognise that voters will be weighing up a range of issues when casting their votes on June 23. However, we want a secure future for our most precious wildlife and the places they call home. 

“In weighing up the current evidence, the uncertainties and the balance of risks, we have concluded that the safer option for nature is for the UK to remain a part of the European Union.”

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, added: “The outcome of thisreferendum will have profound implications for our countryside, wildlife, rivers and seas.

“David Cameron is right to put the environment at the top of the agenda today, and he has highlighted the range of benefits that EU membership has delivered for our species and habitats. 

“Nature doesn’t observe national boundaries but still needs protection. So whatever the result on June 23, we must work closely with other countries to tackle the huge threats that our wildlife and wild places face.”