Defra has announced the allocation of £110M of funding for rural businesses in England, in a bid to support countryside communities.

According to Defra, the Rural England Prosperity Fund will be invested in projects which will boost productivity and create rural job opportunities. These could include farm businesses looking to diversify by opening a farm shop, wedding venue or tourism facilities or improvements to village halls, pubs and other rural hubs for community uses.

Worth up to £110M, the funding will be delivered by eligible local authorities and give local leaders a greater say in investment than they previously had under EU schemes, says Defra.

Local priorities

Investment will be based on local priorities and support investment in projects such as grants for:

  • converting farm buildings to other business uses
  • rural tourism, such as investments in visitor accommodation
  • capital grants for provision of gigabit-capable digital infrastructure at hubs such as village halls, pubs and post offices for community use
  • capital grants to develop, restore or refurbish local natural, cultural and heritage assets and sites
  • creation of new footpaths and cycle paths, particularly in areas of health need, or capital grants to enable people to develop volunteering and social action projects locally

This will be in addition to the £2.6bn allocated via the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to support levelling up across the UK. The fund will be part of the UKSPF and is a rural top-up for eligible local authorities.

“This major investment in rural businesses will help us boost the countryside economy and close the rural productivity gap,” said Greg Clark, secretary of state for levelling up. “It’s our mission to spread opportunity across the whole of the UK and this funding will help us do just that.”

Concentrated efforts

Information on the new funding was part of the ‘Delivering for Rural England’ report which was published last week (3 September).

Responding to the report, NFU president Minette Batters said: “It’s encouraging to see concentrated efforts from the government to level up rural communities, especially the funding being made available through the Rural England Prosperity Fund to help the development and growth of rural businesses.

“It’s also promising that the government is looking at its levelling up goals through a rural lens and training civil servants on rural proofing. This will help ensure levelling up policies work for those living and working in rural areas, in turn, enabling rural communities to deliver even more when it comes to producing climate-friendly food, providing greater access to the iconic great British countryside and contributing to the national economy.

“We now need to see all government departments taking greater accountability for levelling up rural areas; policies around digital connectivity, tourism, transport and housing are just as important to rural communities as they are to urban ones. Alongside Defra’s work, a specific rural taskforce within the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities would help keep rural needs at the forefront of all levelling up policy-making, enabling rural areas to maximise the opportunities these policies are intended to provide.”