Opinion: Cornwall would lose many benefits after Brexit

So, what has the EU ever done for us? This is a question that many will be reflecting on ahead of the EU referendum.

While Cornwall receiving money from Europe is well known, how and where it is spent is much less so. Yes there are signs up on some big projects, like the dualling of the road at Temple on the A30, but these are soon driven past and merged with the barrage of signage of day to day life. There has been significant investment in transport infrastructure – road, rail and sea – as well as superfast broadband. It is the many benefits that aren’t badged, though, that I want to highlight.

Cornish people have received hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of investment, into supporting individuals and improving their skills. During 2007-2014 this was paid for by the European Social Fund Convergence Programme and the evaluation of that found an 11% increase in the number of females employed and an increase of 14% in the total number of people employed.

Further, there was a decrease in the number of people with no qualifications from 10% to 6% over the same period. This increase in social mobility has been provided by bodies such as Careers South West, our colleges and Cornwall Adult Education, being able to do more because of the discreet additional funding for Cornwall. But how many of us know this provision is because of European funding?

Another body making a real difference to people’s lives and to business’ is the Cornwall Marine Network (CMN), which has created 650 Cornish apprentices in two years, 99% of which were in SMEs. Jobs in the local marine sector have some of the highest gross value added for any local business sector, and by the end of 2016 the economic value added to Cornwall’s economy through CMN’s use of EU project funding will exceed £180million over the last 11 years. Paul Wickes, CMN’s chief executive says: “We are living proof that EU money does bring significant economic benefits to the mainly small and medium sized businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.”

Business support is provided for start-ups, expanding existing business, for inward investment, and much more. This is done through companies such as YTKO and Oxford Innovation. How many of us know that much business growth in Cornwall has been supported by EU funding? The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has three funding streams. Many of us are aware of financial support to farmers through the single farm payment (now known as basic payment scheme) and some of us will be aware of funding for agri-environment schemes; fewer will know about funding for rural business development.

The following businesses have received support: Roskilly’s, Trevaskis Farm, WC Rowe, Trewithen Dairy, Kelly’s Ice Cream, Proper Cornish Foods, Ginsters and Dairy Crest. These are all pretty much household names but how many of us know that they have received European funded support? Many, many businesses have also received support but are too numerous to mention. The CAP is estimated to have provided £715million of support to Cornwall from 2000-2014.

In 1999, total gross annual pay in Cornwall was £10,605 and in 2015 it was £17,340, a 63.5% increase. This is a higher increase than the South West or the UK. I have no doubt that the investment in skills, infrastructure and businesses has helped to make this difference.

But those calling to leave the EU will say that we can and will do all of this because we will have the resources. The EU has been explicit in its ambition to “close the gap”, to ensure that poorer regions are supported. The EU policy is very clear: those regions at less than 75% of EU average GDP receive the highest level of support. There is no such UK policy. UK investment goes to richer areas. Infrastructure, skills, business support, and many other areas all receive a per-head spend higher in London than Cornwall. There is no evidence to suggest this will change.

Our seat at the EU table has allowed the UK to win big arguments on free trade, liberalisation of air travel and telecoms. The UK has shaped its EU membership to its needs; securing opt-outs from the euro and the Schengen agreement abolishing border controls.

We are having a referendum on EU membership because we have the sovereignty to do so. The fact that we decide to pool sovereignty to achieve our aims is the same for membership of the EU as it is for our membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or the World Trade Organisation.

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We are happy to consume the benefits of being a member of the European Union and in day-to-day life it doesn’t matter to us where these benefits come from.

But when we are being asked to make crucial decisions about our future, it is critical we understand where the benefits derive from.

Make no mistake, a leave vote on Thursday will mean that we see many of these benefits disappear.

Julian German is an independent member of Cornwall Council

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