00:00 20 November 2021
Over the past four decades, North Devon and in particular its rural businesses have benefited from a wide range of government support initiatives, both political and financial.
Part of this support was based on EU structural funds, which had been allocated in recognition of the significant levels of deprivation that had been identified.
The decision to leave the EU and the actions that followed around Brexit mean that many of these funds are no longer just for rural areas.
The government had promised to replace them with a new fund, the Shared Prosperity Fund. This is expected to be launched in April 2022. When it was first announced, it was said to fully replace lost EU funding. In the less visible publications that are part of the recent budget, we have now learned that this new fund will not match the £ 1.5bn of EU funding lost before 2025. It will be £ 400m sterling in 2022 and £ 700 million in 2023.
The move makes a mockery of the government’s promise to “take it to the next level.” It is also having a profound effect on large parts of North Devon, which are still in desperate need of these levels of support.
It is already known that North Devon has low levels of productivity compared to national averages. We also know that the rural economy is far behind these average figures in terms of economic wealth creation. However, what is important is that these rural areas could make a very valuable and rapid contribution to wealth creation. A recent study identified that targeted investment in the rural economy could add around £ 43 billion to the national economy. North Devon stands ready to respond if given the chance to meet these challenges. It is disappointing that the government appears to have no real ambition to boost prosperity in rural areas and only further accentuate the urban divide between the countryside.
A full lobbying campaign to highlight these issues would be a good starting point to ensure Whitehall recognizes that North Devon should be on its map.