Monday, 12 January 2015 07:29

Go-ahead soon for £3.5bn rural programme

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Go-ahead soon for £3.5bn rural programme

Brussels is set to give the go-ahead for a new rural development programme worth £3.5bn to the English countryside.

The European Commission is expected to issue an agreement in principle for the scheme soon, with further details emerging over the coming weeks and months.

Defra deputy director Andrew Robinson said the green light would enable the government to launch new schemes "early in the New Year".

Mr Robinson said: "We have worked very hard to get a programme in the form and the shape that the commission will approve."

Nine rural development programmes for other European member states have already been given the go-ahead by Brussels.

The programmes are being introduced as part of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, which comes into effect this year and runs until 2020.

In England, the new programme will have four main elements – a countryside stewardship scheme worth £3.1bn for farmers and three main socio-economic measures worth a combined £456m.

The socio-economic measures include a rural and investment programme (£177m), a LEADER programme (£138m) and a countryside productivity scheme (£141m).

While previous programmes have also supported socio-economic measures, the growth and investment programme is a new strand this time around.

The growth programme will be focused on rural business development.

Funding will be used to help rural entrepreneurs start or growth their businesses or improve skills and training.

Local Enterprise Partnerships will have a big say in how this money is spent alongside structural funds in their area.

"Structural funds are not just for urban areas – they are for rural areas as well," said Mr Robinson.

The government wanted the rural development programme growth fund to top up that money and be invested in broadband, renewable energy, rural tourism and business.

The LEADER programme will be mainly targeted at smaller projects supporting jobs and growths in rural areas.

The countryside productivity scheme will support farming and forestry productivity, new enterprises and technology.

It will encourage farmers and foresters to innovate, use the latest research for skills and training, and encourage young entrepreneurs to start businesses.

Mr Robinson said: "There are some principles under the new programme which is very much about getting the most out of every pound of money we spend."

The goal was to obtain the best possible benefits from the money while targeting what was a limited amount of funding to where it would add most value.

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