…as a child did you ever get gift tokens as presents for Birthdays and Christmas and if you did, were you as disappointed as I was?
I traded most of my gift tokens for cash, I could never understand why someone would give me a token that could only be spent in a certain place instead of just giving me the same amount of cash that I could spend anywhere I chose. And to top it off the generally well meaning, generous and otherwise rational person that had given me the token had to spend their time and effort going to the store to change their previously valuable cash into a voucher with limited use…who says consumers always seek rational benefit (students of Economics take note).
So what about European funding, well the complex circus that is European funding actually makes the giving of gift vouchers look logical. Imagine a Birthday or Christmas where your well meaning Aunt turns up with a voucher for you, you smile politely and say thank you (mother is watching) and then your Aunty tells you that she is only going to give you the voucher to spend in a store that you have never heard of, if you will match the face value of the voucher that she is giving you. Now for the clincher, you explain to your Aunty that you are of course very grateful for her generosity but you will need to go and look in your piggy-bank to see if you have enough funds to match what she has given you to spend in the store you have never heard of. To your surprise you find that your piggy-bank is empty so you run round the house asking and accusing everyone, at which point your Aunt tells you that she crept into the house when no-one was around, she took the money that was in your piggy-bank and used it to buy the voucher to give to you to spend in the shop that you have never heard of. In short your Aunt has just done to you what Europe and its European funding regulations have been doing to UK plc and every other European member state for years. Each member state gives cash to Europe which they receive back in the form of grants and funds that can only be spent in certain ways…does that make any sense to you?
Over and above the nonsense of us giving Europe taxpayers money only for it to give us some back after telling us how and where we can spend it, there is another damaging downside to the European funding circus, and that is the time and effort it makes Public Sector bodies spend chasing the wrong things and focusing in the wrong direction. Public Sector bodies spend millions of hours and billions of pounds chasing European funding to build, develop and support programmes and projects that will meet European funding criteria; i.e. they start with the available funds and not with the needs they have. And because each European funded project requires match funding that originates from within the UK, this ties-up both public and private funds that could otherwise have been used to achieve more meaningful things. This is doubly pernicious because it means the Publicly Funded bodies that the taxpayer supports to work on their behalf can often spend their time chasing objectives that may not matter to their communities and in the process are using funds from their communities that can’t be spent twice; once its gone its gone!
The next time you see a large blue sign proudly announcing that this or that project was funded by European Regional Development Funds, you can take some comfort that it was actually funded by you…just try not to remember that you had no say in it and that the projects you might have wanted to see happen probably won’t because there is no money left in your piggy-bank.