NICK Clegg has defended the Regional Growth Fund, despite worries that the North East could lose out on £11m of funding within days.
The Journal last week highlighted a warning from Tory Business Minister Michael Fallon that several projects allocated cash from the fund, set up to boost the private sector and job creation in areas like the North East, are yet to finalise terms with the Government.
If they do not agree terms by the end of the month, funding will be lost – which could put hundreds of hoped-for jobs at risk.
At the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton yesterday, Mr Clegg launched a passionate defence of the multi-billion pound RGF and hit back over a highly critical report into the programme by the Commons public accounts committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge.
Mr Clegg – who said he insisted on the fund’s creation during coalition negotiations with the Conservatives – alleged her presentation of the report was a “shameless piece of political posturing” despite the committee having Tory and Lib Dem members.
There had been “real delays” at the beginning of the programme when it was new, and because of the need to ensure taxpayers’ money was well spent, admitted the Deputy Prime Minister.
But he said the fund was supporting thousands of jobs nationwide and making a considerable difference in parts of the country that had been over-reliant on public sector employment.
He said: “It’s really revealing that Labour think the measure of success of a fund like that is if a man in Whitehall turns up in a suit with a cheque and hands it over to someone on a factory floor.
“It just shows absolute lack of understanding of how the private sector works.”
Mr Clegg said many private firms told him was that what they needed was the assurance that RGF money was coming so they could start projects, even if the cheque had not yet arrived.
“That’s exactly what’s happened. About 50% of the projects have started because they know they’ve got that money coming and they can plan accordingly,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.
But he added that was looking forward to the RGF process becoming “more efficient” with any needless delays cut out as it became more established.
Meanwhile, Mr Clegg signalled last night that the Liberal Democrats will go into the next general election making clear that some manifesto pledges are “dependent on circumstances”.
He said the increasing likelihood of coalition government meant parties could no longer guarantee implementing their manifesto in full.
The comments came after his grovelling apology for breaking his promise to oppose hikes in tuition fees.