Aylesbury MP David Lidington hears value of European rural business grant

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A rural grant scheme with an impressive success rate supporting new business ideas is due for review.

After five years the EU funded LEADER Programme, which provides grants to farmers, foresters and community enterprises, comes to an end in December.

Nick Phillips who runs the Buckinghamshire programme from Saunderton met David Lidington recently to seek his support.

Mr Phillips said: “We wanted David here to raise the importance of the programme. We need to maintain it, and we are hopeful it will continue, but nothing is written in stone yet.”

The current five year timescale comes to an end in December and a new five year programme, if approved by the EU, will not start until December 2014. Mr Phillips said Defra is keen to offer support during the interim year, using other available funds from Europe to keep LEADER going until the new timescale starts.

Mr Phillips said: “The money is availabe from Europe and because we have been so successful we expect to be supported with another five year programme. We have created 140 new jobs throughout rural Bucks, with things like farm diversification and retail community projects. We have also helped farmers develop on-farm tourism.”

Mr Lidington said he would like to visit some of the projects in the spring, and would support the programme at European level.

A key part of the LEADER programme is the rigorous application procedure which involves submitting a robust business plan and cashflow forecast.

Mr Phillips explained: “Of all the businesses started and supported by LEADER only one has not gone on to succeed, compared to the Buckinghamshire average of 10%.”

He accepted there has been criticism of the large amount of time and paperwork involved in applying for a LEADER grant, and responded: “We are reviewing this and we are making sure unecessary bureaucracy is removed. However, the people who have been through the process have found the business planning and cashflow forecast work very helpful. Business plans have got to be proven to be sustainable. When using tax payers money you have to spend wisely.”