Northumberland County Council chief promises to 'fight tooth and nail' to keep rural funding scheme

The leader of Northumberland County Council has vowed to ‘fight tooth and nail’ to keep a rural funding scheme going.

Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 5:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 4:01 pm
Cheviot view from Simonside

Coun Peter Jackson’s comments about the Rural Growth Network (RGN) programme came as the local authority’s cabinet approved the receipt of an additional £1million grant from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) so it can continue for another year.

With the aim of helping to grow the economy across the rural areas of Northumberland, Durham and Gateshead, the RGN was launched in April 2015 and was due to end by March next year.

Now, the scheme, for which the county council is the accountable body while Advance Northumberland delivers it, is set to be extended until April 2021, following a successful bid by the council to the NELEP over the summer.

Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson.

Coun Jackson said: “This is absolutely great news for those areas of the county that need this. I think the RGN programme in Northumberland is actually seen as an exemplar for other parts of the country.”

The programme has secured private and public-sector match funding totalling£25million from £5.5million of grants since it was set up, is due to exceed its contracted target of 321 new jobs and has provided grants to 42 organisations to date.

Coun Richard Wearmouth, the cabinet member for economic development as well as chairman of Advance Northumberland, said: “The RGN programme has been a great success in our county, creating hundreds of jobs and stimulating a high level of business growth in Northumberland.”

There are two grant schemes available from the programme – the Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund (SEIF) and the Rural Business Growth Fund (RBGF).

SEIF has focused on investment in the development of business infrastructure in key economic centres in rural areas, while the RBGF offered direct capital grants to rural businesses.

The additional £1million is for SEIF projects, so grants will be available to applicants for investment in key strategic tourism assets or the creation of units which could accommodate a number of businesses – such as enterprise hubs.

In July, a call was made to find a way to continue another successful rural funding programme in Northumberland, when the EU cash ends with Brexit.

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.