RURAL business leaders and politicians in North Yorkshire have expressed deep disappointment after the region was snubbed by Whitehall in its bid for new funding to boost the countryside economy.
The North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) had made the final 10-strong shortlist of bidders battling for £15m of Government support for rural business growth in the UK.
But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced last week the country’s five Rural Growth Networks will be located in Wiltshire, Northumberland, Devon, Cumbria and Warwickshire.
Each will now receive around £3m to create what are effectively mini-enterprise zones, designed to boost businesses in rural areas with benefits such as super-fast broadband, access to fast-track planning and skills and mentoring support.
Having been shortlisted in the final 10 from an original pool of 29 bidders, North Yorkshire had been one of the favourites to land the funding after being involved in negotiations with Defra over how the networks might work.
North Yorkshire LEP chairman Barry Dodd said it was “unfortunate” but he would still push ahead with his plans for a rural business network in some form.
“We’re clearly very disappointed, as we felt we had an excellent bid,” Mr Dodd said.
“We haven’t had any feedback from Defra yet, but I suspect it might have had something to do with the fact our bid was not about bricks and mortar – it was about enhancing centres already in place.”
The three-year schemes will involve the building of new business premises for start-up firms and a range of targeted support for rural businesses in the successful areas.
Skipton and Ripon’s Conservative MP Julian Smith, who had lobbied on behalf of the North Yorkshire bid, did not hide his disappointment at the decision.
“It was only last month that I had the Secretary of State (Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman) on a visit up here to North Yorkshire to show her first-hand the business park and what we were trying to do, so I’m very disappointed at this,” he said.
“I’m trying to get a more detailed explanation of exactly what happened because we were confident.
“Barry Dodd and his team are some of the best in the LEP world at the moment and he put forward a very compelling case.
“I am very surprised at the decision.”
North Yorkshire was chosen last year as one of the Government’s pilot areas for the roll-out of rural superfast broadband, and there is speculation this may have counted against it in the final reckoning.
A Defra spokeswoman said the “knowledge gained” from the five pilot schemes would be spread to other parts of the country – but could offer no confirmation that further funding might be made available for other areas.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said the new networks were part of a wider package of measures to help the countryside.
“Our £15m investment will create thousands of new jobs and hundreds of new businesses, boosting the rural economy and supporting thriving local communities,” she said.
“Altogether we’re spending £165m to support economic growth in rural England, and shows once again we are firmly on the side of rural communities.”
Mr Dodd said his LEP will still create a rural network of business centres in market towns and business parks across the county – albeit on a smaller scale to what had originally been envisaged.
“The most important thing now is that we press ahead,” he said.