Calls for Northumberland rural funding to continue after Brexit

Calls have been made to find a way to continue a successful rural funding programme in Northumberland when the EU cash ends with Brexit.

Thursday, 18th July 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th August 2019, 11:06 am
County Hall, Morpeth

Leader is a bottom-up approach to delivering rural and community development, with decisions made by local action groups (LAGs) made up of volunteers from different sections of the local community.

In Northumberland, almost the entire county – with the exception of the urban south-east corner – is covered by either the Coast and Lowlands LAG or the Uplands LAG, with a section south of the Tyne forming part of the North Pennine Dales area.

But it is funded by the European Union and therefore the scheme will be ending shortly unless a decision is taken by the Government, or the county council on a local level, to continue supporting it.

An update on the Coast and Lowlands programme from 2014 to 2020 at Tuesday’s (July 16) meeting of the North Northumberland Local Area Council revealed that 60 projects have been supported, with £1.77million of grants resulting in £4.24million of total investment and 137 jobs created – an average grant per job of £12,900.

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The LAG chairman, Ross Lowrie, estimated the value of the volunteer contributions – given that many are experts in various fields – was around £90,000 a year.

He said that there was the possibility of a rural fund as part of the Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace the funding that the UK currently gets from the EU after Brexit.

“But we may be done by December before the Government even holds a consultation on the Shared Prosperity Fund or what it involves, which will result in the loss of that £90,000 of expertise,” Mr Lowrie continued.

“I’m highlighting that issue, but I’m not seeing a lot of pace in sorting it out and I don’t see a great deal of creativity in sorting it. In my mind, we’ve already missed two great opportunities in Borderlands and the North of Tyne devolution deal.”

Asking the councillors to lobby on this issue, he added: “I’m calling for a bit of engagement so we don’t lose something and then regret we lost it.”

Leader has six main aims – supporting micro/small businesses and farm diversification; boosting rural tourism; increasing farm productivity; increasing forestry productivity; providing rural services; and cultural and heritage activities.

Coun Anthony Murray, who is involved with the Uplands LAG, said: “The worst thing about the end of Leader is that the Coast and Lowlands and Uplands both had a committee of committed local individuals. We should have fought for some of Borderlands to come into Northumberland for Leader funding.”

Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, who is on the Coast and Lowlands LAG, added: “It’s a really fantastic way of supporting local businesses, but not just businesses.

“At the first Borderlands meeting in Dumfries, I asked about this and they said it was all about big, multimillion-pound projects, but I think there’s better value for money in schemes like this.

“It amazes me how many projects would not have got off the ground without Leader.”