Tory heartlands seek aid

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The Independent Online
THE RECESSION has bitten so deeply into the Tory heartlands that Kingston-upon-Thames, represented in the Commons by Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, has asked for designation as an assisted area.

The plea from Tory-controlled Kingston is one of many bids from southern towns being considered by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade. An announcement on a redrawn assisted area map, attracting British and EC aid worth about pounds 170m, is expected next month - after the pit closure programme is settled.

The clamour for aid bail-outs undermines weekend appeals from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues for a fight back against the 'doom and gloom' merchants running the country down. Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, told Radio 4's The World this Weekend: 'The potential for this country, once we have emerged from recession, once the world economy improves, is tremendous. . . We do have this tremendous tendency for self-denigration. We are so often our own worst enemies.'

Mr Howard is MP for Folkestone and Hythe, part of an East Kent consortium bidding for assisted area status. Supporting that submission, Sir Patrick Sheehey, chairman of BAT Industries, told Mr Heseltine: 'East Kent does not feel like part of the prosperous South-east, it has a fragile economy undergoing severe change.'

Unemployment in the Folkestone travel-to-work-area - the basis for the assisted area review - was 12.3 per cent in December, compared with a 10.5 per cent British average.

The Kingston submission, made available to the Independent by the Department of Trade and Industry on Friday, said: 'The current recession has hit Kingston particularly hard . . . unemployment has risen by over 230 per cent between 1989 and 1992.'

The borough accepted that its unemployment rate of 6.8 per cent last March was low by national standards, but said the planned closure of a British Aerospace factory would lead to the loss of 3,200 manufacturing jobs.

Places sending regional aid applications include Southend, Luton, Thanet, Isle of Wight, Great Yarmouth, Dover, Brighton, Hastings, Hereford, Portsmouth, and Torbay - all represented by Tory MPs.

Derek Fatchett, Labour's regional spokesman, said last night: 'The MPs now calling for assisted area status are those same people who previously described the system as a state hand-out and begging bowl.'

Tory clamour, page 5