Use it or lose it: East Anglian farmers urged to claim their share of rural funding
Brown & Co
With a raft of new funding pots available and deadlines looming on existing schemes, now is the time to grab your share of cash aimed at rural businesses, says ANDREW FUNDELL, a partner in the agricultural business consultancy at Brown and Co.
A recent announcement by the rural affairs minister John Gardiner that a total of £200m is to be made available under the Rural Business Development Programme in England (RDPE) has been welcomed by those in the agricultural industry.
Of that, a total of £120m is for projects under the Countryside Productivity Scheme, whose main focus at this stage is on water resources and forestry.
It is essential that eligible businesses respond swiftly in this region to ensure that we attract as much of the budget as possible.
In addition there will be £30m to improve rural broadband and £45m to help rural businesses grow. Rural businesses in East Anglia are well placed to benefit from this area of the RDPE:
The Countryside Productivity Scheme offers capital grants of up to 40pc of eligible costs, ranging from £35,000 to £1m per project, with an application deadline of April 3, 2018.
For water resources, it could support reservoirs and associated infrastructure including pumps, underground mains, software, boom or trickle irrigation, and filtration equipment.
Meanwhile the forestry grants could help projects adding value to timber by primary processing, for example harvesters, log splitters, kindling machines, wood chippers, forestry and timber trailers, timber cranes, or construction of woodchip stores.
With the Environment Agency deadline for the renewal of abstraction licences fast approaching on the October 31, exploring options of utilising grant funding to have a sustainable irrigable area should be considered.
This announcement comes in addition to other grant schemes that are already available and it is important to identify if there will be an opportunity in your business to embrace these schemes.
Brexit presents uncertainty across the sector and whilst the current support mechanisms have been guaranteed by Defra minister Michael Gove for the remainder of the term of this government, if you have been considering any capital projects that could make your business better equipped to face that uncertainty, these schemes will help the financial viability. Funding cannot be applied for retrospectively.
OTHER FUNDING STREAMS:
• LEADER (Local Action Groups)
There are five Local Action Groups (LAGs) across Norfolk responsible for the administration of the LEADER programme. Designed to help all rural businesses including agriculture, the individual LAGs put different emphasis on the national priorities when it comes to allocating funds.
Grants from £2,500 to £170,000 are available per project. The scheme opened in 2014 and there has been a mixed uptake across our region. With funding needed to be committed by March 2019 there is increasing pressure to commit the funds – or risk losing it.
The six priority areas include increasing “farm productivity” – for example, no-till drills, automated livestock handling equipment, precision farming, remote crop sensing systems, LED lighting in livestock buildings, or slurry application equipment.
Other priorities are support for micro and small businesses and farm diversification, boosting rural tourism, providing rural services, providing cultural and heritage activities, and increasing forestry productivity.
• RDPE GROWTH PROGRAMME (RDPE)
Offering capital grants of up to 40pc, with up to £1m available for larger projects, this programme has three national priorities: Business development, food processing and rural tourist infrastructure. The deadline for expressions of interest is January 31, 2018
• LOCAL INVESTMENT IN FUTURE TALENT (LIFT)
The LIFT Programme, launched in July, is a scheme specific to Norfolk and Suffolk that offers 50pc grant funding on all eligible project costs.
The fund consist of three strands: jobs, trials, and skills. The “skills” strand aims to fund training and support for employees of rural businesses, allowing them to progress within their career.
While LIFT funding cannot be used for statutory qualifications associated with farm businesses like HGV, PA1 and PA2, it could potentially support training in other skills such as BASIS and FACTS.