Small producers could still apply for a share of £35m EU funding
Small food producers and processors have been urged to act quickly to benefit from millions of pounds of EU funding still available to them.
The UK government has invited expressions of interest in its £35 million Growth Programme, which distributes cash from Brussels.
Food producers with under 250 employees and turnover below €50m (£42m), or balance sheet below €43m (£36.5m), can apply for funding if they process certain agricultural products including meat, milk or grain.
Grants of between £20,000 and £750,000 are available to individual businesses, and the cash is guaranteed to successful applicants whatever the result of the protracted Brexit negotiations.
Expressions of interest have to be made by 16th February, and Rural Payments Agency chief executive Paul Caldwell has called for swift action.
“I would urge all interested applicants to submit their expressions of interest as soon as possible to ensure they have plenty of time to complete a full application if their project is assessed to be eligible,” he said.
Applications will need to meet at least two of six criteria to progress. These are: creating at least one full-time job or equivalent for every £30,000 of funding; increasing business turnover and profit; providing direct benefits to raw material suppliers; unlocking new markets; improving productivity through innovation; and creating new links between businesses.
A full application will then be requested and assessed further.
The cash will be paid to the chosen companies in arrears, meaning they have to be able to pay project costs up front before being reimbursed by the government.
Edward Berry, partner at The Flying Fork consultancy, said that – aside from the requirement to pay out up front – the scheme was “good news”.
“A lot of grants have gone to tech and innovation and the rural sector has been on the back foot,” he said. “It is a modest sum of money but it is good timing. If we are to be cast adrift from the EU then subsidies will not be as readily available. The size of the grants suggest these are producers whose supply chain would be direct to consumers or through independent retailers.”
Farming minister George Eustice said: “Our dedicated fund for rural businesses has created more than 3,700 jobs and supported a diverse group of businesses, tourism operations and start-ups to unlock their full potential.
“This next round of funding will help more businesses to grow and local areas to prosper – I urge any rural enterprise to look into what this scheme could do for them.”
For full details see: gov.uk/government/publications/rdpe-growth-programme
Read more of the latest news from Fine Food Digest here