In what has seemed like an eternity, the government’s Rural England Prosperity Fund (REPF), has finally gone live as of 7 April.
The REPF was first mooted in Defra’s second Rural Proofing Report – ‘Delivering for rural England’ – that promised a new fund worth £110m in capital grants over two years. The latest announcement finally confirms the allocations given to each eligible local authority, meaning that the REPF can finally begin its work.
Members will note that in November 2021, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the UK’s contribution to the EU Structural Funds would now be put into a nationwide UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), worth some £2.6bn over three years. However, the CLA was the only national body to notice that this funding was not explicitly geared to rural areas, whether they be businesses or communities, despite previously targeted funds being available under the EU.
The CLA called on the government to rectify the funding gap and we were pleasantly surprised when the rural affairs minister, Lord Benyon, announced at the 2021 CLA Conference that additional funding would be allocated and ring-fenced for the rural economy.
Then in September 2022, after months of CLA lobbying to get some detail on what this new grants scheme would look like, the REPF was announced. And finally, we arrive at the week just after Easter 2023 when the REPF becomes a reality and rural businesses can start to benefit.
As you can imagine, it has not been a straightforward journey to get to this point. Immersed in the detail is how the REPF will be delivered. Normally with capital grant schemes, they are delivered nationally by one central body, for example, the Rural Payments Agency. However, with the REPF, it will be the responsibility of local authorities to deliver.
Of course, we support the principle that local problems should be solved by people with local solutions and a better understanding of the local environment. But this raises major logistical issues, for example, trying to engage with 117 local authorities, many of which have little or no understanding of running a rural capital grants scheme. It has meant developing a framework that focuses on promoting greater productivity and cohesion within rural communities.
Thanks to extensive work by CLA regions, we have managed to engage with a wide variety of local authorities and many have recognised the importance of an ongoing dialogue. It is important for this to continue so that our members’ interests are protected.
As the REPF is rolled out we will be making sure that members are kept up to date with developments and we have produced a members’ briefing note on funding allocations and how to gain access to grants.
BN01-23 The Rural England Prosperity Fund (REPF)Download the member briefing note
The rural economy is 19% less productive than the national average, but reducing this gap could add up to £43 billion to the economy. This funding is an important step in unlocking the vast potential of rural businesses, and will give startups as well as existing enterprises the support they need to grow.
“We strongly encourage Local Authorities to work closely with rural entrepreneurs to maximise the opportunities the Rural England Prosperity Fund presents, identifying every possible opportunity to generate economic growth – creating good jobs and strengthening our communities in the process” said CLA President Mark Tufnell in response to the news.