Networks would boost rural communities and “unlock the economic potential of rural areas.”
He added: “Rural businesses face particular challenges – a lack of business premises, slow internet connection and fragmented business networks are some of them. The Rural Growth Networks will help to tackle these problems.”
The National Farmers Union welcomed the investment, adding that it hoped Local Enterprise Partnerships would also put forward applications.
James Copeland, Food and Farming Adviser for NFU North-East, said: “This announcement puts a bit more meat on the bones of the Autumn Statement, which offered more money for rural businesses.
“The rural economy continues to grow and this means more jobs, and so any investment is good and will continue that.”
The announcement came on the same day NFU President Peter Kendall said the Government should look to farming to kick-start the economy in the New Year.
He said rising exports of food and drink could help to rebalance the country’s trade deficit and that the agricultural workforce had risen by 9,500 over the past year.
In an upbeat New Year message, Mr Kendall urged the Government to support farming by cutting the red tape and restrictions of the European Union subsidies system and stop the “opportunistic practices” of supermarkets, which push down the prices paid to producers.
Mr Kendall said: “If George Osborne and Vince Cable are looking for industrial sectors to kick-start growth and re-balance the economy then they should start by looking at farming.
“And it’s not just exports. The value of farm output has increased by almost 30 per cent in the past five years. We’ve been creating more jobs too.”
Dorothy Fairburn, Regional Director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in Yorkshire, said: “The CLA shares Mr Kendall’s optimism regarding the future of agriculture, but we have continuing concerns about the wider rural economy. For example, the need for effective broadband, a reform of the planning system and a major reduction in red tape and restrictions.”
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