Countryside communities are at risk of being stripped of critical funding that has seen thousands of projects deliver millions of pounds worth of benefits to the nation’s rural heartlands.
Cecilia Motley, chairman of the Rural Services Network, has written to the Environment Secretary warning her not to withdraw funding from the Rural Development and LEADER programmes as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
Although the Government has promised to maintain the current level of EU subsidies paid directly to farmers until 2020, it has failed to make a similar guarantee about other rural payments.
Ministers have merely pledged to honour EU structural and investment projects signed before the Autumn Statement, casting doubt over funding for rural projects agreed after that date.
Rural development and LEADER funding is used to support ‘heartbeat’ rural services such as village shops, as well as rural tourism and rural services, green energy and cultural and heritage activities.
Ms Motley, whose network speaks for 154 local authorities and more than 100 other service providers, said partnerships representing rural businesses and communities across the country had invested great effort to draw up strategies that run up to 2020.
“The funds they manage are critical in helping rural economies to grow and diversify, supporting start-up enterprises, business expansion or innovation and new economic opportunities,” Ms Motley said.
She said it was clear the Government was still weighting up whether to guarantee funding for rural projects signed after the Autumn Statement, and in her letter to Andrea Leadsom, she said: “We strongly urge you to ensure that the economic interests of rural areas are fully included in all considerations. This stretches far beyond agriculture and the environment and it is critical that the government includes rural stakeholders in its consultation processes.”
Millions of pounds in EU funding has been spent supporting Yorkshire’s rural communities.
In East Yorkshire alone, the LEADER programme has seen around 200 projects share nearly £5.9m to improve rural life.
Councillor Jane Evison, cabinet member for economic investment at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: “LEADER programmes have for many years supported economic growth and access to vital services.”
Coun Evison said the current programme provides £2.1m in funding but the uncertainty was making it difficult to advise applicants with good projects but who need more time to work them up.
A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “With a fifth of us living in the countryside and our rural economy generating almost £230bn, supporting our rural areas and most remote communities will form an important part of our exit from the EU.”
The Treasury is set to confirm the Government’s future funding arrangements before the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.