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

Wednesday December 16th 2020


Blacksmith, Cousland Smiddy Heritage Hub which benefitted from investment. Photo credit: Eilidh Munro.

Written by Midlothian View Reporter, Luke Jackson

A 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.

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.

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.

“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.

“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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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