SINN Féin MLA Declan McAleer has welcomed confirmation from the DAERA Minister that 874 jobs have been created since 2014 through the Rural Business Investment Scheme.
Mr McAleer, chair of the AERA Committee, said: “The Rural Development Programme (RDP) was set up to tackle poverty and inequalities in services and infrastructure within rural communities. A key component of the RDP is the Rural Business Investment Scheme which has the objective of stimulating growth and development in rural areas by supporting small and micro rural businesses.
“I have been in contact recently with Minister Poots regarding the current programme and its successor and in his response he confirmed that at the end of June 2020 there has been 789 full-time and 170 part-time jobs created. This is a superb achievement and a very welcome boost for the local economy. Senior officials have also confirmed to me that 100 per cent of the LEADER funding has been allocated. This represents a huge investment of £80m in the social and economic development of rural areas and is also a testament to the dedication of the staff, Councillors and social partners on the Local Action Groups (LAGs).
“Whilst the department has not furnished me with projections, it would be fair to predict that the figure of 874 jobs will increase as the dispersion of this funding continues until 2023 and also other measures in the RDP such as ‘Basic Services’ will also have created jobs in addition to the 874 figure.
“Whilst these jobs are very welcome, it should be noted that they came about due to our membership of the EU Rural Development Programme, which also provided the funding. Unfortunately, Brexit extricates us from the EU along with the accompanying funding streams. I am aware that DAERA is working on a new rural policy to effectively succeed the RDP and I have been lobbying the DAERA Minister and Finance Minister in respect of this.
“I welcome the current Rural Business Micro Growth Scheme (£5k-£40k; applications close on August 31) as a pilot to test the demand and needs of local businesses in preparation for a future programme. A separate ‘Rural Business Development Grant Scheme’ (£500-£5k) is also open for applications until Friday 11th September 2020.
“It is essential now that the department opens the new draft rural policy for public consultation. We need to scrutinise this and the public and rural stakeholders need to have a say in shaping this so that it meets the needs of our rural communities who have played such a huge role during the Covid crisis and are emerging from lockdown in the shadow of Brexit.”