By FWi staff

APPLYING for grants under the Rural Enterprise Scheme could be made easier next year.

Defra is considering changes proposed by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

The scheme is intended to encourage diversification of the rural economy.

Funding of 152m has been earmarked 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.

“They are 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.”