James Gregory looks at what a loss in EU funding could mean for trade, jobs and innovation in Nottingham.

When Britain voted to leave the EU last June, many wondered how it would impact on the local economy.

Fears were raised that dozens of projects pledged cash through the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) – which has previously helped fund projects such as Wollaton Park and Sneinton Market – could lose out.

But as the country prepares for the point of no return when Mrs May triggers Article 50 on March 29, is the future looking any rosier more than 9 months on from the referendum?

Fears that Nottingham could lose out on £50m worth of EU financed projects were dispelled when Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s autumn budget guaranteed a continuation of funding until we leave the EU, most likely in 2019.

Yet after this, it is unclear what will happen.

Local industries are still hopeful that the loss of funding after 2019 will be found elsewhere, but there has been no guarantee from central Government for long term support.

Medilink, which provides specialist support to boost the region’s economic output from life sciences, is just one group relying on EU investment that could potentially lose out post-Brexit.

Chief executive Dr Darren Clark says: “As a not-for-profit business which helps small companies, we rely on securing external funding in order for many of our activities to take place.

“Since 2010, the only available source of external funding has been the European Regional Development Funding (ERDF), which funded the Healthcare and Bioscience iNet project for 5 years.

“By the end of this project in 2015 we had helped more than 1,000 companies with support to develop their innovations, providing a total of £3.7m funding to 306 projects regionally.

“We were fortunate to secure a further £3.6m of ERDF for three new projects which will run until 2019, but after that we have no way of knowing what can be expected.

“Our main concern in this period of uncertainty is that the life science sector is not overlooked. The fact that the government has confirmed that the life sciences industry remains a priority is an encouraging sign, but without continued funding the sector may struggle to grow and reach its full potential.

“We are now looking to the government to ensure these support programmes remain.”

Darren Clark of Medilink. Credit: Medilink
Darren Clark of Medilink. Credit: Medilink

Other organisations have also benefitted from ESIF funding over the years.

Between 2011 and 2016, Nottingham City Council managed to secure £18m for projects in the city which has been used to finance regeneration projects like Sneinton Market and business incubation units for food and drink- such as Southglade food bank.

Inspire Local, a training programme supporting access to employment, was allocated £7.5m of ESIF and state funding – the project is expected to get this funding but it is unclear where future funding will come from.

Meanwhile, mobile app specialist AppInstitute, in Stoney Street, has previously received £150,000 in ESIF money to help grow the company through initiatives like marketing, and was relying on a further £126,000 injection for research and development.

Ian Naylor, its founder, had been concerned whether money he had applied for before the referendum would come through.

He says: “So far all the funding we had earmarked has been unaffected. We haven’t had any direct reassurances, but we have been told the any ERDF funding would be matched if and when they cease due to Brexit.”

The D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which manages the ESIF across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, has been promised nearly €250m (£213m) to tackle a wide range of initiatives across the area of which £90 million has been approved.

D2N2 is still actively looking for projects which could tap in to £18m pot of funding. There is not a percentage of funding allocated just for Nottingham.

However, the vast majority of projects are designed to benefit both Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

In 2016 more than £21m-worth of projects were signed off, including research projects for the University of Nottingham, initiatives to get disengaged young people into work and local schemes to help business development.

Jon Collins, leader of Nottingham City Council, said in the aftermath of the referendum that there was “little prospect of this (EU funding) being replaced with national funding programmes.”

But some believe there is room for optimism.

Francesco Lari, chairman of UKIP’s Nottingham city branch, says: “We are currently paying £3 for every £1 of EU funding that comes back to us.

“This means that on exiting the EU, the government is going to have £150 million with which to make up the loss of £50 million of EU funding to the city of Nottingham, and I would personally welcome all funds were given to the city.”

Yet with the terms of Brexit to be negotiated, and funding post-Brexit still not guaranteed, the next two years could be crucial for the future of business in Nottingham.