Concerns over post-Brexit plans to replace successful rural investment programme

Cousland Smiddy Heritage HubA rural development programme covering areas of East and Midlothian has succeeded in providing more than £2.5 million in grant funding for 42 local projects over the past six years.

Innovation

Funded by the European Union and the Scottish Government, Tyne Esk LEADER was set up in 2014 to increase support to rural communities and local business networks. The programme, which is now coming to an end, has played a key role in encouraging innovation and co-operation to help deliver local development projects.

Shared Prosperity Fund

As a result of Brexit, the UK government is proposing to replace all EU Structural Funds (£12.83bn UK wide), including the LEADER Programme, with a new Shared Prosperity Fund.  In alignment with this, the Scottish Government has put forward a Scottish Shared Prosperity Fund proposal for a full 7-year programme from 2021-27. However, the UK Government has announced in its Spending Review that the first phase of the new Shared Prosperity Fund will be a £220m UK pilot for 21-22, followed by a full programme to start in 2022-23.

Loss of funds

“Given the size of the fund, and the fact that the current 2014-20 programme didn’t get started until 2016, this is not likely to happen on that timescale,” said Midlothian Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Economic Development, Councillor Russell Imrie. “This will mean a wholesale loss of funds for that year, with a year or more needed to set up the new programmes.

Uncertainty

“In turn this will bring even more uncertainty for businesses, farms, community groups and other third sector organisations of the kind who have benefitted so much from the outgoing LEADER Programmes. It is also a major cause for concern that the infrastructure and expertise built up in delivering these programmes will be lost.”

Taking stock

He added: “With funding for the LEADER programme now completely allocated, it’s a good time to take stock of what’s been achieved. The programme has had a tremendous record of success in our area, taking forward innovative rural development projects, encouraging diversification and enterprise and in creating new jobs.”

Rural enterprise

23 of the projects funded by the Tyne Esk LEADER programme were in East Lothian and 18 in Midlothian, with 1 covering both areas. 62 new jobs had been created up to April 2020 as a result of the funding support, the majority of these in farm diversification and rural enterprise.

Match funding

Every £1 of LEADER investment in the Tyne Esk area has also leveraged in £1.44 from other sources. From the £2.4 million in LEADER funding allocated up to November of this year, local projects received a further £3.5 million in match funding.

Midlothian projects

Among the Midlothian projects to have recently received support are Whisky Frames, Rosewell, to help with equipment to improve efficiency and meet zero carbon targets; Cousland Smiddy Heritage Hub, to help restore and upgrade the visitor attraction; Rosewell Nursery, to fund its refurbishment; Melville Golf, to help them relaunch as a family golf centre; Midlothian Sure Start, to employ a fundraising and communications officer and help them become self-sustaining, and Melville Castle Bridge Restoration, to restore a historic bridge on its site.

Project support

Sheena Irving of Cousland Smiddy said: “Receiving funding and project support from Tyne Esk LEADER enabled us to gain match funding from Historic Environment Scotland and the essential permissions needed for the listed building works to be carried out. The final result allows the smiddy to continue as a working space for the tenant farrier, as well as being easily accessible and safe for all visitors to experience the craft demonstrated in its authentic setting.”

Local Action Group

Tyne Esk LEADER is based within Midlothian Council, as the 'Accountable Body'.  It is however, governed by a Local Action Group, a decision making body comprising members from Midlothian and East Lothian. This includes representatives from community groups, rural businesses, voluntary sector organisations, and agriculture, along with advisors from local government and national agencies.

Pictured

  • Blacksmith, Cousland Smiddy Heritage Hub
  • Photo credit: Eilidh Munro
16 Dec 2020