Grant aid is going begging
By Robert Harris
MANY farmers and small agricultural businesses that could benefit from revamped EU grant aid are unaware of its existence. But with up to 50% grant aid available for qualifying projects, now is the time to find out more, says Ashley Dodgson of Laurence Gould Partnership.
"There are two European schemes of particular relevance to farmers – the European Regional Development Fund and the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund," he says. These, together with the European Social Fund, were established to reduce economic disparities within the EU and aimed to achieve five main objectives for an initial period of five years between 1994 and 1999.
Those objectives have recently been whittled down to three, two of which relate to the rural economy. "Objective 1 remains basically unchanged, encouraging development in poorer areas where gross domestic product is less than 75% of the EU average," says Mr Dodgson.
For the period 2000-2006, this includes Merseyside (£844m of funds available), Cornwall (£314m), South Yorks (£782m) and west Wales and the valleys (£1.2bn).
Funding, which will average 35% of project costs for the private sector, is expected to be available from the autumn, though backdated applications to Jan 1 2000 may be allowed. Support is targeted at the provision of services that encourage sustainable development (see box).
Objective 2 continues to support industries in decline, but now includes the old Objective 5b, which was established to assist development of rural areas. About £2.1bn of grant aid is expected to be available up to 2006 for urban areas with unemployment rates greater than 7.5% and in rural areas where unemployment exceeds 10%.
Grants of up to 50% for the private sector will be available for projects fulfilling certain objectives (see box).
Further EU money is also available under the governments recently announced Rural Development Plan, says Mr Dodgson.
The seven-year plan is expected to provide about £1.6bn of funding from 2000 to 2006. Most will help boost environmentally sensitive area payments, the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and organic aid, and established woodland and hill farm schemes.
However, £152m is available under the new Rural Enterprise Scheme (except in Objective 1 areas) and a further £44m under the reinstated Processing and Marketing Scheme for capital investment in projects which add value to farm products and improve markets.
All three schemes are expected to be operating in the autumn.
For further details contact Mr Hodgson or Keith Leddington-Hill (01832-731155). *
• Land improvement.
• Establishment of farm relief and management services.
• Marketing of quality products.
• IT links.
• Diversification aid.
• Development of tourist facilities.
OBJECTIVE 1 AIMS
• Community regeneration.
• Promotion of regional distinctiveness.
• Business planning and product development.
• Inward investment for smaller businesses.
• Training and employment for disadvantaged.
OBJECTIVE 2 AIMS
• Small business growth.
• Inward investment and jobs.
• Assist disadvantaged areas.
• Encourage new skills.
• Provide conservation and environmental improvements.