Two of the north west’s most successful farm business support schemes are coming to an end. Lancashire Rural Futures is being disbanded due to lack of funding, while Farming Connect Cumbria has reached the end of its four-year lifespan.
The North West Regional Development Agency refused to provide the £125,000 requested by LRF to maintain its programme until early next year, when it was expecting funds from the government’s Rural Development Programme for England.
Farming Connect Cumbria also closes in June after delivering £7.25m of grant aid for core farming activities since 2004 and playing a major role in re-vitalising over 1500 farm and rural business ventures in the recovery period following the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001.
John Welbank, programme manager at Lancashire Rural Futures since it was launched, said the project had been hugely successful in helping farmers and rural entrepreneurs to “help themselves”. He was now concerned that funding ear-marked for rural areas was a long way behind schedule.
“The close of LRF leaves a huge gap in terms of the advice and support that’s still so urgently needed in the county. Agriculture and the rural economy have gone through a very difficult period in recent years and many businesses have been saved because of our support and advice.
“It looks as though it will be 2009 before any RDPE funds are available,” said Mr Welbank.
A team of 19 advisors at LRF’s Clitheroe and Leyland offices has been made redundant. LRF was involved with 2500 clients and had almost 500 “active” projects – all of which have now lost their LRF support.
“There’s no longer a specialist rural advice team providing support for farm diversification schemes in Lancashire which is very bad news for the county. Something may be salvaged from all this but it will be a much smaller operation.”
Cumbria farmers are also about to lose a life-line of advice and support when Farming Connect Cumbria ceases to operate in June. The Cumbria Rural Enterprise Agency will continue to be run from its offices at Penrith – and the Cumbria Farm Link department will still operate.
Harry Martin, manager of Cumbria Farm Link, said FCC had made a huge impact on farming business in the last four years.
“The project has been very successful and has been able to offer a life-line to many farms via grants for farm buildings and improvement to business infrastructure,” he said.