Graham Clark, CLA Rural Surveyor, reviews the success of his local LEADER programme and looks forward to the future of funding schemes.
Financed by the EU, LEADER is a community-led scheme which provides support to local projects to create jobs, help rural businesses grow and communities to develop. If you’re wondering why I’ve written it out in capitals, you might be surprised to learn that LEADER is a French acronym roughly translated as “Liaison among Actors in Rural Economic Development”.
It has been a real pleasure for me to Chair my local LEADER group since 2015, the West of England Rural Development Programme, which is one of 79 in England. Working with local public, private and voluntary sectors, its role has been to decide which projects are best to invest its £1.4m budget in to develop the local economies of rural South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset.
Recently we held a celebration to mark the achievements of the West of England programme. Around 40 joined us at Aldwick Court estate, which overlooks the Mendip Hills, to hear a few words from various projects that were only made possible thanks to the funding secured.
Despite its modest budget, the programme has supported 37 local projects, created or sustained 44 rural jobs and has leveraged an additional £2m of private and community investment. These projects include investments in farm productivity and improving animal welfare, supporting farm diversification and enabling rural business owners to launch new value-added products such as ciders and cheeses. It has also supported several village hall renovations and community shops. In an area where funding tends to be absorbed by the local economic powerhouse, Bristol, this success shows a strong demand for rural grants and investment.
Grants are often viewed as being too complex to administer and apply for. LEADER has also faced similar criticisms, but the strength of our approach was to offer face-to-face support to explain rules and help applicants develop their projects. This is in stark contrast to other schemes which take a more arms-length approach, such as the RDPE Growth Programme run by Local Enterprise Partnerships which is facing a national underspend.
Politics means that LEADER is now drawing to a close. There will likely be some form of rural development funding scheme post-Brexit, with its own rules and forms to fill in! We will finally discover whether the complexity that surrounds grant schemes stems from EU bureaucracy or the UK’s gold-plated rules. My suspicion is that any new scheme will be equally complex to work with.
My advice to landowners is not to wait for new schemes to open before starting to plan any project. Start early! it always takes longer than you think. Keep an eye out for new funding schemes, but don’t wait until they open before researching your idea.
Things like planning consents and quotes can take months to secure and usually need to be in place before applying. Researching a market or product, analysing competitors, formulating a business plan, investigating match finance, these all take time to work through.
Finally, don’t just ‘chase the grant’. Rather, think about what project or investment best suits the overall business circumstances. The well-conceived, properly researched, evidenced and presented proposals are the ones that secure funding – whether in the form of a grant or a commercial loan.