Final EU-backed rural funding for Northumberland up for debate - this is how to have your say

People are being asked to give their feedback on the final programme of a successful rural funding programme backed by EU cash.

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 4:28 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 1:14 pm
Picture c/o Pixabay

Members of the Northumberland Coast and Lowlands Leader group are very keen that local communities have an opportunity to feed their comments into the final evaluation.

The evaluation team will have completed its follow-up visits by early March and the programme will then close.

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.

The Northumberland Coast and Lowlands LAG, one of 80 similar groups across the UK, has allocated more than £1.7million of European Union-derived grants between 2014 and 2020, which in turn has attracted an additional £2.3million of private funding, resulting in more than 130 new rural jobs and support for around 60 businesses and community organisations.

The group’s chairman, Ross Lowrie, said: “I would really encourage people to let us know what they think of the Leader programme, it is really important that any future community-led rural development initiatives learn from our experience.”

If you have had any involvement or views on how the programme has operated, send your comments on the following questions to [email protected] by Monday, February 10.

1) Communication – Have you been aware of the programme, the priorities and the grants available within the area? How did you hear about it, for example, print media, online, word of mouth? Have you been directly involved, for example as a LAG member or an applicant applications?

2) Impacts – Have you noticed any economic, environmental or social benefits from the programme and its grants, either generally within the area or impacting directly on you/your business/organisation?

3) Delivery – How well do you think the voluntary LAG and its paid employees have done in promoting grants, advising applicants, approving appropriate projects, and monitoring and reporting on delivery?

4) Approach – Do you think the Leader approach of being area-based, bottom-up, partnership-orientated, integrated, innovative, cooperative and networked has been achieved and does this add value to a grant scheme?

5) Other – Any other points about the 2014-2020 programme.

You can find out more about what the scheme has delivered here – https://tinyurl.com/szhb3hg

‘We don’t want to lose and then regret it’

In Northumberland, almost the entire county – with the exception of the urban south-east corner – was 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.

Last summer, we reported that Mr Lowrie had called for efforts to be made to find a way to continue the Leader programme when the EU cash ends with Brexit, estimating that the value of the volunteer contributions – given that many are experts in various fields – was around £90,000 a year.

He said at the time 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, at last July’s North Northumberland Local Area Council meeting.

“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.

“I’m calling for a bit of engagement so we don’t lose something and then regret we lost it.”