WORK that could lead to the Isle of Wight receiving millions of pounds in extra funding is underway.
The Isle of Wight Council, backed by MP Andrew Turner, has requested a meeting with Minister of State for Business and Enterprise Michael Fallon to push for the Isle of Wight to receive Assisted Area Status (AAS).
AAS can mean extra funding, support for businesses and communities and open up other opportunities for securing investment.
Following a meeting with Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable last week, Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder said she was positive about the Island’s AAS prospects.
Yesterday (Wednesday) Isle of Wight councillors and representatives from the Island’s Trades Union Council (TUC) — which has long called for the Isle of Wight Council to pursue AAS — met to discuss the issue.
In a statement issued today (Thursday) the Isle of Wight Council said the call for Island AAS was supported by organisations including Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce, Partnership of Urban South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Association of Local Councils (IWALC).
Council leader Cllr Ian Stephens said: "For many years I have believed that the Island should qualify for economic assistance to recognise the particular challenges we face, not least our separation by sea which can increase many business costs."
He said he was delighted to have support on and off the Island and that AAS would give the Island significantly more leverage to attract new businesses and help support existing companies.
The government is due to consider proposals for assisted areas for 2014 to 2020 and Mrs Bearder said she hoped the Island would be able to make a strong case. If agreed by the minister, final approval would need to be granted by the European Commission.
Mrs Bearder told the County Press the Island was now being considered on its own, rather than with Hampshire, which previously led to a distortion of the figures used by government to determine which areas would receive AAS.
"I think there has been a realisation that considering big regions leaves places like the Isle of Wight high and dry. I was very pleased to hear that recognised as it means that we have a good chance," said Mrs Bearder.
She said she hoped significant progress could be made by next month and was hoping to meet with the council, unions, charities and other organisations.
AAS campaigner and Cowes TUC chairman Bob Burton said: "We are delighted that this is moving forward. It is long overdue.
"We got no satisfaction with the Pugh regime."
Mr Turner MP said: "I am very pleased to add my voice to the council’s in seeking proper recognition from the EU of the unique challenges we face here on the Island. We all realise that this will be an uphill battle, but it is one that we must all fight together for the good of the Island."