The ERDF-ESF Programme Aquitaine 2014-2020 aims to boost economic growth and contribute to achieving the Europe 2020 targets for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth: Developing digital economy to support growth, increasing the innovation capacity and the development and competitiveness of SMEs, continuing the energy transition while preserving natural heritage, improving employability of the people and ensuring integrated development in deprived urban areas. How can the impact of public policy and regional funds be assessed? The Aquitaine regional council, which has made research and technology a cornerstone of its strategy, had a clear answer: by bringing in researchers and innovative SMEs.
The regional executive financed a study which aimed to assess the impact of the measures it had taken to support science and technology between 2014 and 2020. In budgetary terms, these measures amounted to more than EUR 1.2 billion since 1998, when Alain Rousset was elected as president of the region. That amounted to 6.3% of its budget, compared to an average of 2.8% in the other regions, according to a Ministry of Research study. What was the result? “The signs are positive and all point in the same direction, although it is somewhat difficult to then establish a causal link between policy measures and results. All the more so since the state and Europe also provide funding,” said Alexis Vanderstocken, a researcher with the Research Group on Theoretical and Applied Economics (Gretha) at the University of Bordeaux. For example, the number of patent applications rose by 75% in Aquitaine, compared to 30% in France as a whole. And although the region was starting from very far behind, the researcher says that “This progress has altered the state of play.” He noted, however, that policies supporting higher education remained the state’s responsibility. In order to take a closer look, he then carried out a microeconomic analysis by scrutinising small businesses, the region’s main focus. “It is primarily SMEs and intermediate-sized companies that will create jobs,” reiterated Alain Rousset, the region’s president.
Thus the approximately 200 SMEs supported by the region saw their R&D budget increase by 84%, compared to only 18.8% for the others. These same SMEs also saw their staff numbers increase by 52%, while the average was just 22%. These businesses also benefited from more public funding. “This shows one qualitative effect of regional funding,” noted Alexis Vanderstocken. Finally, he sought to analyse the chemicals and materials sector, which employs 14 000 people. Although it has benefited from EUR 100 million in aid from the region since 2005, it was able only to halt the decline of its workforce, which decreased by 12%, compared to 20% in France as a whole. There was a fourfold increase in people working in the newer and more dynamic materials subsector, compared to only a twofold increase in France as a whole. The effect of this regional policy must be further looked into in order to determine its general impact on employment and its impact on the main industrial areas.