On Song for Europe; the Largest Ever North-East Delegation to the European Union Returned from Brussels on Thursday with Leaders Declaring It a Success. Ross Smith Reports

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Byline: Ross Smith reports

A MAJOR European conference this week has been hailed in the North-East as a crucial stepping stone as the region bids to increase its EU cash share.

Representatives from regional development agency One NorthEast, the North-East Assembly, councils, universities and a string of regional businesses travelled to the Belgian capital this week for the annual European Week of Cities and Regions.

The event involved a series of workshops to enable regions to share their ideas for development and pick up what has worked elsewhere.

Possibly more importantly, it also created a series of opportunities to meet leading decision makers and investors from across the Continent. A North-East reception was held, giving visitors from the region the chance to meet and talk to senior decision makers in Europe, including European Commission officials.

Iain Derrick, international policy manager for ONE, said: "It doesn't matter whether you're pro or anti-Europe. At the moment, Europe is a fact of life and we need to make it work for the North-East. If we're not there influencing, somebody else is." The conference came at a crucial time, with funding for the North-East over the next seven years about to drop to about half the level received since 2000 as focus is shifted to poorer countries in eastern Europe.

ONE director of strategy Pat Ritchie said last night: "From a regional point of view, especially a region keen to influence the direction of European funds, it's very important to be part of an event like this. In terms of raising the profile of the region and the work we're doing in Europe, and influencing how the funds might be used, it's been particularly successful."

One of the North-East organisations aiming to make the most of the week was NStar, a company which invests in hi-tech North-East businesses to help get them off the ground, often matching money provided from the EU.

The set-up is liked by the European Commission, partly because the investors only get a return if the businesses succeed. Previous systems based on grants have seen millions of pounds handed out with limited accountability to ensure it is money well spent. …

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