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All not as it seems for rural economy grant.

Byline: JULIE LIDDLE

AS WE pass one more grant application deadline, one can't help thinking that has another opportunity been lost.

The Rural Economy Grant (REG) Scheme was much talked about before its launch earlier this year, following on as it did from the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme (FFIS) grant scheme application window, which came and went in a flash. Certainly the REG looks at first appearances to be an excellent scheme with opportunities for rural businesses to benefit from some welcome grant aid. Delving deeper, one soon realises that all is not as it seems.

While there is potential to benefit from a hand-out, there is a very serious financial commitment from the rural business that is aiming to benefit as it has to spend a minimum of pounds 62,500 in order to attempt to qualify for the minimum grant of pounds 25,000. Not many rural businesses necessarily have that spare cash lying about, even with the incentive of 40% grant aid to aim for.

Looking back into the past, one could be forgiven for thinking that the goalposts have moved dramatically from the early days of rural grants.

What rural businesses are now being asked to aim for is becoming unattainable.

In the good old days of FHDS and AHDS grant schemes back in the 1970s and 80s it was all about increasing production, improving competitiveness and supporting the core business.

Now it is all about adding value, adopting new technology and increasing local spend - outcomes that have mirrored the changes in agricultural support in the past 20 years as we have progressively moved away from headage payments, based on numbers of animals or acres cropped (hectares if you were born after decimalisation) towards a system that is totally divorced from production and increasingly based on delivering outcomes, be they environmental or otherwise.

At the risk of being cynical one could easily be forgiven for thinking that the REG scheme or FFIS have little to offer grass-roots agricultural businesses but you may be wrong.

Gone are the days when a rural business could just look at what was eligible for grant aid, put together a half-decent plan, do the work and then claim the grant before moving on to the next project.

To even hope of achieving success with the new grant schemes the owner of the rural business has to actively engage with the whole process.

If rural businesses are to continue to benefit from any future grant schemes then they must grasp any opportunity they can to meet criteria.

If they don't, then they risk losing future opportunities as the supply of monetary support for the rural businesses of the future may very well dry up.

Julie Liddle is a director of H&H Land and Property in the North East and Cumbria
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 19, 2012
Words:470
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