Deeply rural investment – how past and future funding models can play a part in levelling up the North.

James Farrar – Chief Executive of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership.

In the world of national elections, devolution discussions and complex funding models, my day to day role can seem far away from work on the ground. Towards the end of last year I was fortunate to visit a number of deeply rural businesses in the Dales that have benefitted from the rural grant programme, LEADER.

LEADER, an EU funded grant programme for rural development, completed in 2019. In the Dales alone, the programme covers an area of 3337km sq across parts of Harrogate Borough, Craven District, Richmond and Hambleton. LEADER also covers the North Yorkshire Moors and North Yorkshire Coast, East Riding, Wolds, Wetlands and Waterways. In the Dales, LEADER had given out a total of £2.35m to small and micro businesses, a sum that may seem insignificant next to the six and seven figure deals of urban environments. Yet as we strive to develop our economy, working hyper-locally, often with micro businesses can make a significant difference to rural communities.

The relationship between anchor businesses and small and micro enterprises in deeply rural areas is important. One anchor business is the award winning, Wensleydale Creamery. Investing £17.9m in expansion (part funded from an EU productivity grant), a global brand with sophisticated processes, Wensleydale Creamery work with a supply chain of local farmers. One such supplier is The Home Farmer, a dairy farm based in Aysgarth.

Ben and Adam grew up on Home Farm. When they left home for University their father had a herd of 40 cows. After time in professional roles, they returned to Home Farm to take over the business and knew that significant change was needed for it to survive.  The family built a new dairy parlour with capacity for 80-100 cows. They benefitted from three LEADER grants, one supporting them to modernise milking facilities, a second to progress into raw milk cheese production and a third to develop a milk vending machine. The latter vends milk that is pasteurised but not homogenised, so the cream goes to the top, as in the old days….

With LEADER support, The Home Farmer business has developed higher margins, increasing financial sustainability and potential for growth. Such enterprise and innovation in farming is going to be crucial as the UK leaves the EU and farm subsidies change.

The Courtyard Dairy was another stop on my Dales LEADER tour, a fantastic business taking full advantage of the brand of Yorkshire when it comes to good food and tourism. Andy and Kathy Swinscoe worked in top restaurants in London and France, and brought this experience to bear as they set up the Courtyard Dairy. Enabled by a LEADER grant, they expanded the dairy business to include a shop, café and a cheese making museum, where they hold small scale workshops. The business now employs 21 people and has ambitions to support like-minded entrepreneurs with an incubation facility.

These businesses, and others like them, epitomise what is so great about rural Yorkshire. Across the region there are innumerate examples of passionate individuals, who live, love and breathe Yorkshire and who are finding new ways to build sustainable businesses in rural areas.

LEADER has completed and change is afoot. At the end of this month, the UK will leave the EU. Funding models will change, and we don’t yet know how. The UK Government has promised to invest in the North. It is crucial that smaller, rural communities aren’t left behind.

Alongside the debate around levelling up the North and South, there also needs to be a re-balancing of rural to urban economies. Whatever funding comes forward, rural investment must be ring-fenced. Whereas grant programmes like LEADER have positive impacts, future funding must allow for locally led, strategic approaches to take full advantage of the economic potential held in our natural assets. Our vast rural and agricultural landscapes allow us to specialise and contribute to the future of clean growth – growth that builds resilience, transforms productivity and makes a significant contribution to national targets in carbon reduction.

Our Local Industrial Strategy recognises the vital role of rural economy. Between 13th to 31st January, a draft version of the strategy is out to consultation. We want rural businesses to have a voice and to be heard. Only that way, can we continue to bring our best back home and attract new talent that will invigorate and sustain our deeply rural communities.

You can have your say on our Local Industrial Strategy by visiting https://www.businessinspiredgrowth.com/local-industrial-strategy-consultation/

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