Ninety nine percent of businesses in Wales are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and the EU plays a major role in supporting these companies by providing funding through a wide range of programmes to help develop a skilled workforce and create new and innovative products.
SMEs can receive Structural Funding, apply for research and innovation funding through European Commission programmes and also benefit from non-financial assistance through business support services. The EU also supports partnerships between universities and private enterprises and this will be emphasised even more over the seven years.
An excellent example of EU support for SMEs is the JEREMIE Fund (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) which provides financial support to businesses that are struggling to secure investment due to the current economic climate. So far the fund has invested more than £110 million in some 500 businesses in Wales, helping them to grow and create jobs.
Now that the new EU budget is finalised, I’m pleased to report that after a substantial amount of lobbying I managed to convince the UK Government and the EU Commission that Wales deserved a £130m increase in EU funds, rather than the £400m cut that was originally planned.
The current support for small and medium sized enterprises will be doubled to around €140 billion for 2014-2020. This increased investment will help SMEs to:
- Access finance with grants, loans, loan guarantees and venture capital,
- Tap into business know-how and advice, information and networking opportunities including cross-border partnerships,
- Invest in vocational education and training,
- Develop links with research centres and universities to promote innovation.
As part of the new funding package, the new ‘Horizon 2020’ programme in Wales will provide more targeted support for Welsh SMEs to conduct research and innovation.
The programme is worth around £70bn and will see a complete overhaul of the way EU research and innovation funding is distributed to universities and SMEs across Wales. It will drastically cut red tape by simplifying rules and procedures to attract more top researchers and a broader range of innovative businesses.
Horizon 2020 will also see an increased focus on industry-academia collaboration, something that I hope is taken up by Welsh universities and businesses because it would be of real benefit to our economy.
I’m pleased to welcome an announcement that North Wales will receive an EU-backed £500,000 boost to help local businesses expand and create jobs.
The £9m EU-backed North West Wales Local Investment Fund has already helped some 450 businesses and created over 490 jobs in Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy and Denbighshire. The extra £500,000 will enable more local businesses to benefit from the Fund as they seek to grow and create further local job opportunities.
It is not just EU funding that benefits Wales – being part of the EU also means Welsh businesses have access to the EU’s Single Market of over 500 million consumers. So it’s no surprise that Europe is our largest trading partner and businesses across Wales export goods and services worth around £5bn every year to other EU countries.
That’s why I’m so concerned with demands from right wing parties that we relinquish our EU membership. Small businesses in Wales would suffer a great deal if this was to happen.
What is really required is strong representation in the EU, to make sure Wales gets a good deal so that we can continue to support Welsh businesses. That’s why the European Elections on May 22nd are so important.
Derek Vaughan is Member of the European Parliament for Wales