Our Leeds NW Liberal Democrat MP thinks of himself as a different kind of politician. This is how he presents himself on his website,
‘Whilst other politicians rely on spin, Greg is known as a plain speaker who is not afraid to speak his mind.’
So what’s he been up to this time?
Mr Mulholland has used his website to welcome the fact that the Coalition Government has made £1bn of cash available through its Regional Growth Fund (RGF). On the 11th July, Mr Mulholland noted that, ‘the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership received a share of this funding for the enhanced Business Growth Programme which provides finance to enable business growth, a big boost for local jobs.’
The Leeds North West Constituency Labour Party welcomes this investment too. However, readers will not be surprised to learn that there is more, or even perhaps less, to this announcement than meets the eye!
So let’s have a closer look.
1. The Regional Growth Fund replaces previous Labour government schemes such as the Regional Development Agencies (RDA), Grants for Business Investment and the Strategic Investment Fund. When the Growth Fund was originally announced in 2010 the allocated funding over three years was £1.4 billion. Labour was spending this amount every year!
2. Mr Mulholland is not quite certain where the money is going to. At one point he refers to the Leeds City Region which includes the local authority districts of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield and York. At another point he refers to Yorkshire and Humberside. We don’t know whether or not you realise this, Mr Mulholland, but Hull is quite a long way from Leeds NW. Whilst the £50 million coming to somewhere in the north is welcome some greater specificity would be useful. How much money and how many jobs have come to Leeds NW?
3. The usual coalition response to criticism is to say, ‘Well, we’re not spending so much money but we’re using the money better!’ Well are they?
Not according to the National Audit Office (NAO), an organisation set up to check that government is spending its money, or rather our money, efficiently and effectively. The NAO noted in its last available report ( published May 2012) that the £1.4bn coalition scheme designed to boost the economy was not sufficiently tightly controlled and had failed to achieve value for money, spending as much as £200,000 generating a single job. The NAO stated: “Value for money was not optimised because a significant proportion of the fund was allocated to projects that offered relatively few jobs for the public money invested”.
4. Mr Mulholland trumpets that more than 11,000 jobs will be created – and that would be welcome. Let’s hope that they’re not only the short-term, part-time and zero contract hours beloved by the Liberal Democrats and Tories. Although we are in the fourth phase of the scheme it is not clear exactly how many jobs have been created and where they were.
5. As usual, Mr Mulholland takes a side swipe at Labour and even his pals in the Tory party. He claims that, ‘the Regional Growth Fund is a key part of the Liberal Democrat commitment to building a stronger economy in a fairer society. For too long, previous Labour and Conservative governments have focused on boosting financial services in the City of London and neglecting our local economy.’
As we have seen, Labour invested heavily in the Regions. But what about the Liberal Democrats. Readers will recall that one of the first actions of Danny Alexander, George Osborne’s Liberal Democrat hatchet man, was to withdraw the support of the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters in 2010. A spiteful action that led to uncertainty to a northern economy at a time when support was needed more than ever. They later reversed their decision but not before causing economic damage to the company and to its employees.
So, it boils down to this. Mr Mulholland bigs-up the announcement of a share of a reduced fund to somewhere in the north, of which we have no details, under a scheme that has been slammed as not providing value for money but somehow represents an example of Liberal Democrat fairness.