£110million earmarked for grants to boost England’s rural economy

A new £110million Rural England Prosperity Fund (REPF) has been announced by Defra, to support projects that will boost the rural economy and create jobs.

Farms looking to diversify could benefit from the funding, with grants likely to be available to help convert farm buildings to other uses, including visitor accommodation or event spaces.

Other eligible projects will include those that support rural communities, such as investing in the establishment of digital infrastructure hubs in village halls, pubs and post offices and the creation of new footpaths and cycle paths.

See also: New grants this year for rural communities and businesses

REPF funding, which effectively replaces the former Leader and Growth Programmes, will be available from April 2023 to March 2025 and will be provided by local authorities.

The REPF is a complement to the £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which aims to support productivity and prosperity in parts of the country that need it most.

Additional investment to support rural areas will also be available under the UKSPF.

Rural Affairs Minister Lord Benyon said the new rural fund would help close the rural productivity gap and improve opportunities in the countryside.

Productivity gap

The announcement comes as the government issues a Deliver for rural England report, which concludes that while progress has been made in some areas, such as improving digital connectivity, there is still a long way to go.

The report explains how the government is working to close the rural productivity gap, which has fallen from 90% of the English average in 2001 to 83% in 2019.

Mark Tufnell, chairman of the CLA, said the government had taken its first steps towards delivering a plan that would create economic growth in the countryside.

“Finally, the UK government is showing some ambition for the campaign,” he said.

“Improving productivity in the rural economy could be worth up to £43bn of GVA [gross value added] – so the £110m fund will be money well spent.

Minette Batters, president of the NFU, agreed that the new funding would help the development and growth of rural businesses.

“It is also promising that the government is looking at its leveling targets through a rural lens and training civil servants in rural proofing,” she said.

“This will help ensure that leveling policies work for those who live and work in rural areas, enabling rural communities to provide even more when it comes to producing climate-friendly food, providing greater access to the great British countryside which is emblematic and contributes to the national economy. »

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