Businesses must not be penalised by geography

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It was a familiar cry during Labour’s days in power. Every time investment went to another area in the north of England, critics claimed it was all about trying to ensure as many Labour votes as possible in its traditional strongholds rather than allocating money strictly according to need.

Now, unusually, a similar charge is being levelled at the coalition government – and not by the opposition, but a Tory MP.

During a private members’ debate in Parliament, Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage urged the government to provide more help to struggling businesses in the south.

Her argument was that as more money is given to towns and cities in the Midlands and the north of England, so equally deserving parts of the south east, such as the town she represents, are being ignored.

This is about much more than perception. She has the figures to back it up.

In the first-round allocation from the government’s Regional Growth Fund, 14 projects in the north east succeeded while only one in the south east was chosen.

We agree with Ms Dinenage that there should be no discrimination against this part of the country just because of a belief that it is more prosperous and therefore better placed to stand on its own two feet.

As she says, there are areas in the south east region, such as Gosport, that are just as deprived as some parts of the north.

‘The south east shouldn’t be excluded on the basis of geography,’ she insists.

We are not calling for a policy whereby money is allocated on a strictly even basis.

Of course it should continue to go where there is the greatest need.

But the statistics do seem to indicate that the present system favours the north over the south.

We believe it is time for a full review of the way that RGF money is allocated, with all projects treated equally regardless of where they happen to be on a map.

Businesses here must be given the confidence to know they have the same opportunities as those beyond the Watford Gap.