The creation of Rural Growth Networks will help rural areas overcome barriers to growth, such as a lack of suitable premises, and poor provision of infrastructure, such as superfast broadband and mobile networks, as outlined in Defra’s Rural Economy Growth Review.
The Government is investing around £15 million in the pilots, including up to £2.3 million to support rural enterprises led by women. In addition, businesses in Rural Growth Networks will enjoy preferential status when applying for grants from Defra’s Rural Development Programme for England - meaning it will be easier to obtain financial aid to help make themselves more competitive.
Rural Affairs Minister, Richard Benyon said:
“Rural businesses face particular challenges - a lack of business premises, slow internet connection and fragmented business networks are some of them. The Rural Growth Networks will help to tackle these problems so that more rural business can start up and grow, giving a boost to local communities and unlocking the economic potential of rural areas.”
Rural Growth Networks will typically consist of a relatively small number of sites or ‘enterprise hubs’ on underused business parks, brownfield sites or sites which already have outline planning permission for commercial or industrial development. It is expected that each hub will be suitable for between ten and twenty micro or small enterprises. Enterprise hubs could be generic or focus on a particular sector, for instance local food, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, IT, creative/media industries or leisure businesses.
Defra anticipates that each pilot scheme will be run in cooperation with a council or Local Enterprise Partnership who will supply business advice and provide workplaces and infrastructure to rural businesses. Applicants will also need permission from their council to make to make improvements to their premises. Applications will be considered on a competitive basis and Defra will announce the six successful schemes that will each deliver a Rural Growth Network in March 2012.
The closing date for applications is 31 January 2012.
Local Enterprise Partnerships or local authorities interested in finding out more information or accessing the application form and guidance, should refer to the Rural Economy and Business page of the Defra website: http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/rdpe.