Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Kept in the dark - then stuffed!

Our area learned what it’s like to be a chicken this week. We’ve been kept in the dark, then stuffed. Let me explain.

Last year, the Conservative-led government announced that it was cancelling the loan to Forgemasters in Sheffield. The investment would have made Forgemasters a global leader in very big castings, especially for the non-renewable energy sector. It would have created jobs, not just at Forgemasters but also at a large number of other local companies which are part of its supply chain. As it was a loan, repayable at a good interest rate, it would also have made a good profit for the government.

Government ministers – both Conservative and Liberal Democrat – gave all sorts of reasons for scrapping the loan. However, the all-party Select Committee, which thoroughly investigated what had happened, concluded that not a single one of those reasons stood up to scrutiny. Even worse, it discovered that the government had instead given the go-ahead to projects, which were both riskier and provided less value-for-money, like one located in a Liberal Democrat Minister’s constituency in the south of England.

Then, totally against the wishes of the local business sector, the Government announced it was scrapping the Regional Development Agencies, including Yorkshire Forward, as well as cutting the resources for local economic regeneration projects by 60%. Nick Clegg – clearly embarrassed by his shameful part in the Forgemasters’ decision – told us that our area would do well out of the new Regional Growth Fund.

Well, this week, we learned that Clegg’s promise on this had the same value as his promise on student fees.

First, we have been kept in the dark. With Yorkshire Forward, the criteria for choosing investments were transparent and the bids were public. Not only has the Government now refused to publish the criteria, it has even refused to publish the names of the bidders or the nature of the projects.

Secondly, our area has been stuffed. When the Government announced the successful bidders this week, from the massively reduced investment fund, there was not a single project from Derbyshire, Sheffield, Rotherham or Barnsley included.

Although the Government won’t tell us, I know that there were some excellent investment projects submitted from our area. Local people and local businesses will be totally justified in feeling that they’ve been mislead and treated with contempt.