UK 'losing out on EU grants'

THE Department of Trade and Industry is claiming British companies are missing out on hundreds of millions of pounds worth of European Union and international aid for business development.

Preliminary research carried out by the DTI earlier this year made it clear British businesses were being outmanoeuvred by their European count- erparts in terms of winning grants. France, Spain and Italy have the best take-up figures for EU funding.

The government department is so concerned that British companies are losing out to their continental European rivals that it is putting together a specialist team to raise awareness among small and medium-sized companies.

"Over pounds 50bn is given out annually by multilateral agencies, and British business has not accrued very much of this," said Trade Minister Brian Wilson. "With our initiative, we hope to provide a single-door approach to make business aware of the opportunities that exist."

In the next three to five years, the European Commission alone will allocate pounds 5bn across the Continent to promote joint ventures between member states and countries all over the world. Tom Harris, the DTI's director-general of export promotion, said: "Millions and millions of pounds are going begging."

The DTI said that many British companies were daunted by the complex registration procedures, or were simply ignorant of the opportunities on offer. Working with the DTI, it is understood that the European Commission will adapt the structure of some of its grants where there is an alleged bias against UK companies.