A major plan to help create more jobs and support businesses in the rural areas of East Sussex, Essex and Kent, has been launched today (Thursday 26 March) by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SE LEP).
The SE LEP Rural Strategy focuses on the local economy, communities and the environment, and aims to support the area’s estimated rural population of 936,000 – nearly a quarter of the 3.9m residents in the whole area.
SE LEP’s rural economy is a rich mosaic of traditional and innovative land-based businesses, including farming, horticulture, viticulture, forestry and rural tourism. These sit alongside a broad range of non-rural businesses.
The launch of the Rural Strategy follows hot on the heels of £14.5m of new EU funding announced by DEFRA and SE LEP earlier this week, to support rural business in the area. SE LEP is one of just five LEPs in the country to have launched this fund and businesses can now put forward projects.
The new approach, which will balance support of the rural economy, local communities and the environment, has received the backing of Farming and Food Minister George Eustace, who said: “I would like to congratulate the South East LEP for being among the first to benefit from this programme. Receiving substantial government funding, I look forward to seeing all of the great things it does with this money.
“The rural economy is hugely important to this country and we are committed to boosting enterprise across our countryside by encouraging growth, creating jobs and supporting our long-term economic plan. It is also great news that the Rural Development Programme for England is now open – providing key funding to help rural businesses thrive.”
As part of the EU’s European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development scheme, micro and small businesses will now be able to apply for awards of a minimum £50,000 to help support projects to deliver the aims of the SE LEP Rural Strategy.
SE LEP board member for rural growth, Nick Sandford said: “To ensure the South East of England has the most buoyant economy in the UK we need to create a vibrant rural sector.
“Our strategy sets out SE LEP’s objectives to enable continued economic growth, absorb the development of new infrastructure, business and urban expansion and to manage the rural environment to provide clean air, water and safe and nutritious food for the growing population.
“Protecting our precious landscape and habitats, safeguarding our rural communities and supporting the factors that make the South East such a good place to live and work are our primary objectives.
“This strategy is a framework through which the LEP partnership can address the fundamental issues for our rural economy, communities and environment.”
Other smaller grants will be available to rural business and rural communities through the EU LEADER programme spearheaded by nine rural community groups and endorsed by DEFRA and SE LEP.
SE LEP vice chairman Graham Peters added: “SE LEP is the largest LEP in the country but the most local. We recognise the particular needs of businesses in rural areas and the rural community and we are working to support them.
“This strategy sets out our ambition for rural growth and we are among the very first to release EU funding to help deliver it. In seeking new rural jobs and business growth we will continue to develop and adapt to the pace of change in this most varied and dynamic sector.”
The SE LEP Rural Strategy sets out a series of objectives, which aim to place the countryside at the very heart of the investment plans for the region, and they include:
- Provide support for rural businesses and businesses in rural areas to improve access to business critical infrastructure, resources and professional support to enable growth and development
- Optimise the growth and development of the agri-tech, agri-food and forestry-tech sectors to support sustainable food production, maintain plant and animal health and support and enhance natural habitats
- Support the development of sustainable rural tourism to maximise the rich cultural, historical, landscape, health and wellbeing offer to visitors
- Support development and provision of enhanced levels of connectivity across SE LEP to provide adequate infrastructure for rural communities, and businesses
- Develop the skills of the rural workforce and provide opportunities for people to work, learn and achieve
- Build community capital in our dispersed communities, villages and market towns
- Support development of a more efficient low carbon and sustainable rural economy
- Safeguard our natural assets, heritage and quality of life. Respond to the needs of the environment, biodiversity and our cultural assets.
- Support sustainable development and planning to provide a sustainable future
For further information on the SE LEP Rural Strategy visit www.southeastlep.com