Business secretary Vince Cable backs work of £1.4bn growth fund
BUSINESS secretary Vince Cable has defended the Government's £1.4 billion Regional Growth Fund as he visited firms across North Staffordshire.
Four projects in the region are still waiting for final offers a year after their grants were announced and the fund's performance so far was branded 'scandalous' by a Commons committee earlier this week.
Dr Cable was visiting Penkhull materials expert Ceram, which was awarded £1.9 million last October but is still awaiting final confirmation.
Ceram is to put the cash towards developing new firing technology which could help pottery manufacturers slash their energy bills.
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The project will create 25 new jobs at the company which employs around 140 people at its Queens Road headquarters.
It comes after The Sentinel revealed yesterday that Dr Cable had revealed that firms in North Staffordshire bidding for funding in third round of RGF will find out 'very soon' if they have been successful. Asked whether he thought the gap between funding being announced and confirmed was acceptable, he said: "There are very good reasons for the hold-ups. Contrary to the propaganda the RGF works well. Of the first two rounds 90 per cent have final agreements or due diligence well underway and two thirds of projects are actually underway because the money is predominantly coming from the private sector."
Ceram chief executive Tony Kinsella said he believed the firm would receive its final offer within weeks. He added: "We have still got some things to do for the grant on our side, but I think in two or three weeks everything will be cleared."
He added: "The RGF backing is obviously very welcome. But I'm a passionate believer that growth is the responsibility of industry itself. If UK businesses are to thrive in the global market place rather than just survive, they must embrace relentless innovation."
The RGF, which aims to boost economic growth and create sustainable employment outside London, has allocated £1.4 billion and the results of a third round of bidding are due to be announced later this year.
But a report from the public accounts committee found that so far just £60 million had so far reached businesses.
Round one winners, announced last April, included Crewe luxury car-maker Bentley which was also successful in round two, Stafford engineering giant Alstom and Middleport Pottery.
Ceram's grant was announced last October with Steelite International in Middleport, which was granted £2.1 million.
Stoke-on-Trent Regeneration Ltd was handed £2.5 million to improve access and infrastructure at the Etruria Valley Business Park, and Moorland & City Railways was offered £1.65 million to reopen a line between Leekbrook and Stoke-on-Trent.
The report reveals Bentley has received a final offer for its successful round one and two bids – £1.7 million and £3 million. And Middleport Pottery which has been given £1.7 million towards its transformation.