Rural networks are 'bringing benefits'

MINISTERS are continuing to seek meetings with 17 rural networks set up as a 'hotline to the heart of government'.

The rural and farming networks were established earlier this year to help ensure government policies take on board rural needs and aspirations.

They are similar to the regional rural affairs forums set up by the last Labour government.

Defra minister Richard Benyon said the networks were already providing two-way engagement between the government and rural communities.

"Defra ministers are proactively seeking meetings with those groups to ensure that they are engaged with the work of the department," he told MPs on Thursday (26 April).

"Defra continues to invest in the rural community action network and holds regular discussions with Lord Teverson's Rural Coalition."

Meanwhile, the government's cross-party board had examined 29 applications from local economic partnerships and local authorities to set up rural growth networks, said Mr Benyon.

A successful application to establish a rural growth network covering Coventry and Warwickshire, for example, had potential to bring real benefits.

"A credible, experienced set of partners brought it together, and it is a good network," Mr Benyon told the House of Commons during Defra questions.

"Those partners are accustomed to delivery and believe that they will lever in £50m of investment," he said.

"That will mean jobs and technology-led industries, and I look forward to seeing how successful it will be in the coming years."

In total, the government expects more than 3,000 jobs and 700 businesses to be created by the £15m project to support rural businesses and boost the rural economy.

Five rural growth networks across England aim to help businesses in rural areas reach their potential by breaking down barriers to economic growth.

Such barriers include a shortage of work premises, slow internet connection and fragmented business networks.

In total, the government is spending £165m to support economic growth in rural England – an amount it claims shows ministers are "firmly on the side of rural communities".


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