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£110 million funding announced to level up rural areas in England

Rural communities across England are set to benefit from £110 million funding under the Rural England Prosperity Fund, aimed at supporting local businesses and community organisations, creating jobs and boosting productivity and prosperity in the countryside, the government announced on 7th April.

The funding is intended to replace EU grants channelled into England’s rural areas while giving local leaders more say in the allocation of money. It can be used by eligible local authorities to invest in initiatives such as farm diversification, projects to boost rural tourism, and community infrastructure projects including electric vehicle charging stations.

Start-up businesses will also benefit from the funds to facilitate growth and create employment opportunities in rural areas.

The confirmed allocations include over £5 million for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, £3m for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, over £3 million for North of Tyne, over £2.5 million for West Yorkshire, £2.5 million for Shropshire and almost £1 million for Cheshire East. Investment decisions are left to local authorities, some of which are running individual project calls.

The Rural England Prosperity Fund is a rural top-up to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which offers £2.6 billion of new funding for local investment to support levelling up across the UK. The £110 million additional funding will be allocated by Defra between 2023 and 2025. Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

“Driving investment in rural areas is a vital part of our vision for levelling up the country. The new Rural Prosperity Fund replaces the bureaucratic EU funding system – allowing us to work closely with local leaders to direct funding where it is most needed to close the rural productivity gap, create job opportunities and protect the English countryside.

“This confirmed spending will allow local authorities to deliver on their plans to level up businesses and communities in rural areas from today [7th April], in line with their residents’ priorities.”

Commenting on the announcement, Country Land and Business president Mark Tufnell said: “The rural economy is 19% less productive than the national average, but reducing this gap could add up to £43 billion to the economy.

“This funding is an important step in unlocking the vast potential of rural businesses, and will give startups as well as existing enterprises the support they need to grow.

“We strongly encourage Local Authorities to work closely with rural entrepreneurs to maximise the opportunities the Rural England Prosperity Fund presents, identifying every possible opportunity to generate economic growth – creating good jobs and strengthening our communities in the process,” he added.

The money will be spent on two key areas across rural England:

  • Communities and place: projects to improve community facilities such as green spaces and boost access to arts and culture to grow local tourism economies.
  • Supporting local businesses: projects to support agricultural businesses looking to expand their remit, and rural businesses looking to launch or grow their products and services.

The announcement follows the ‘Delivering for Rural England’ rural proofing report, which outlines the government’s approach to tackling rural challenges and creating opportunities in a bid to level up the country.

Progress has already been made in the space of promoting high-quality digital infrastructure through the Shared Rural Network and Project Gigabit. For example, 30% of rural premises now have access to gigabit-capable connections compared with 19% in January 2021.

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