Communities urge government to maintain vital rural funding

The government has been warned not to withdraw vital funding from rural communities as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

The Rural Services Network issued the warning amid growing concern that government ministers are considering withdrawing funding for important rural projects.

It comes as rural leaders and councillors prepare to gather for their annual conference at the University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, on 6-7 September.

Despite a government pledge to honour EU structural and investment projects signed before the Autumn Statement, doubts remain over funding for rural projects agreed after that date.

    See also: What does Brexit mean for local government?

Although the government promised to maintain the current level of EU subsidies paid direct to farmers until 2020, it has failed to make a similar guarantee regarding other rural payments.

EU rural development and LEADER funding has supported village shops, rural tourism, rural services, green energy and rural cultural and heritage activity.

The Rural Services Network believes that sparsely populated and isolated rural communities, including those in remote areas, will be particularly hard hit if funding is withdrawn.

Now Rural Services Network chairman Cecilia Motley has written to Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom seeking assurances that these rural payments won't be lost.

Councillor Motley said: "The current structural fund regime includes considerable funds targeted at rural communities beyond agricultural and environmentally based schemes."

Councillor Motley said partnerships representing local businesses and communities across rural England had invested a great deal of effort to draw up strategies for the period to 2020.

"The funds they manage are critical in helping rural economies to grow and diversify, supporting start-up enterprises, business expansion or innovation and new economic opportunities."

Councillor Motley said it was clear that the government was still considering whether to guarantee funding for rural projects which might be signed after the Autumn Statement.

Continuation of funding for rural initiatives such as these beyond 2020 was of critical importance to rural communities, she added.

In the letter to Mrs Leadsom, Councillor Motley said: "In this respect, we strongly urge you to ensure that the economic interests of rural areas are fully included in all considerations.

"This stretches far beyond agriculture and the environment and it is critical that the government includes rural stakeholders in its consultation processes."

Councillor Motley said a great deal of expertise and knowledge had been built up over many years in delivering EU funding programmes to rural areas.

Relatively small amounts of funding could make a significant impact in rural communities and considerable benefits had been delivered as a result, she added.

"The continuation of some form of support to enable rural economies to diversify and grow must be included in the government's considerations over the coming months."

The full letter can be downloaded here.


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