Rural economy receives £165m funding boost

Farm businesses and communities are set to benefit from a new £165m government funding package to boost the rural economy.

Announcing details of the funding, DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman said rural communities could play an important part in helping to rebuild the nation’s finances by boosting local and regional economies by creating jobs, and providing goods and services such as tourism.

“For too long rural communities and businesses have been overlooked and left to fend for themselves,” said Ms Spelman.

“Businesses in rural areas suffer the same problems as other companies, but they also have their own unique challenges – a lack of quality broadband and mobile coverage and fragmented business networks and infrastructure.

“We are putting that right through this package that will provide the support needed to help businesses grow and unlock the economic potential of our rural areas.”

The funding is being provided under the Rural Economy Growth Review, which detailed the action the government would take to help rural areas during this economic downturn.

DEFRA said the review maximises the potential of our rural communities, their natural capital, tourism trade and their suitability for renewable energy projects.

The report has recommended providing more money to help businesses through the Rural Development Programme for England and creating Rural Growth Networks to help overcome a lack of local infrastructure.

It also advocated funding skills and business support, cutting red tape to solve the scarcity of business premises, providing more money to roll out superfast broadband and supporting further growth in the rural tourism.

Measures in the Rural Economy Growth Review include:

• £100 million from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) to help small businesses improve their skills, facilities and competitiveness;
• Grants totalling £20 million to extend superfast broadband to the remotest areas;
• £15 million for new Rural Growth Networks to help rural areas overcome barriers to growth such as poor infrastructure, scarcity of business premises and lack of business networks.
• Action to make it easier to change the use of farm buildings to address the shortage of rural business premises
• £25 million to promote rural tourism and supporting its businesses (includes £10 million RDPE funding)
• Loans totalling £15 million for community-owned renewable energy schemes
• A new action plan to support the agri-food sector, including a £500,000 competition to support innovation and highlight opportunities for growth

Rural businesses will also benefit from the £1billion Business Finance Partnership, announced by the Chancellor George Osborne, which will invest in mid-sized businesses and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through non-bank channels.

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