Maintaining cross-border research funding is critical – Brian Wilson

Michael Gove gave an assured performance when he appeared before Holyrood’s finance and public administration committee this week.

A tidal energy turbine is pictured in the sea near the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney (Picture: Jane Barlow/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
A tidal energy turbine is pictured in the sea near the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney (Picture: Jane Barlow/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

He repeated the commitment that the value of new UK levelling-up funds to Scotland would at least equate to the value of previous EU structural funds.

And he stuck to his guns over funding via local authorities while eager to work with the Scottish government.

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So far, so good. However, there are big gaps in replacements for EU funding streams – more, I suspect, through inadvertence than design. Some important elements have simply fallen through the cracks.

One example raised by the chairman, Kenneth Gibson MSP, was the European Marine Energy Centre’s wave-and-tidal testing centre in Orkney, a genuine world leader. Half of EMEC’s revenue comes through an EU funding channel called Interreg which promotes transfers of knowledge and best practice among the regions of Europe.

Mr Gove offered to look into EMEC’s particular problem but he should also examine the wider importance of Interreg, not in order to replace it but to find a way to remain within it. Interreg is about co-operation across borders and is not something the UK can do on its own.

Interreg has grown steadily since 1990 and there are hundreds of projects with British partners – universities, local authorities, research bodies. It has a budget of 10 billion euros over five years from which British partners will now be excluded.

In the context of Irish cross-border activity, UK participation in Interreg has been quietly extended. Mr Gove should ensure this now happens more widely – it is simply a good thing to be part of, Brexit or no Brexit.

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