21 December 2001

Easier grant application

APPLYING for grants under the Rural Enterprise Scheme could be made easier next year if changes proposed by the Country Land and Business Association are taken on board by DEFRA.

The scheme, intended to encourage diversification of the rural economy, has been earmarked for £152m of funding until the end of 2006, but many producers have complained that it is so complicated that getting their hands on the cash is almost impossible.

"I think some farmers are reading between the lines and getting the impression the government is unwilling to part with its money," says Peter Prag, a consultant to rural property firm Humberts.

A DEFRA spokeswoman strongly denied that this was the case: "The money is there to be spent over the life of the scheme. We have no interest in making the scheme as tortuous as possible."

But Oliver Harwood, head of rural economy at the CLA, says the system does need to be changed. "We have suggested that the application forms could be made easier and Lord Whitty has agreed that there is a case for simplifying the system."

The spokeswoman confirmed that all the literature for the scheme would be reviewed, but added there were limitations as to what changes could be made. "Many of the data requirements and procedures arise from EU obligations," she said.

Mr Prag believes the RES is proving a headache for many farmers because it is so different to previous grant and subsidy schemes. "Huge commitment and expense is required just to get to the starting line, and even then nobody knows if the application will succeed." &#42