Businesses offered Euro windfall

Dozens of rural East Anglian businesses could get a helping hand to beat the recession as a part of a �10m initiative which could create or maintain up to 380 countryside jobs.

Dozens of rural East Anglian businesses could get a helping hand to beat the recession as a part of a �10m initiative which could create or maintain up to 380 countryside jobs.

Firms and would-be entrepreneurs in three areas of Norfolk - including Breckland - and parts of North Suffolk, are being urged to bid for the cash, which is now sitting in the coffers waiting to be spent, thanks to a successful bid for European funding by Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Rural Business Advice Service (NRBAS).

And with applicants expected to provide some match funding that could double the boost to the local economies.

Three areas have been selected for the project which could give help in the form or training or business grants to would-be firms or even farms looking to diversify.

The chosen areas are:

The Brecks - cross border bid covering the Swaffham and Thetford area, and southwards to Mildenhall.

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Norfolk Coast and Broads - from Heacham right around the coast to north of Caister, and the Broads area.

Waveney Valley - cross border bid, taking in the market towns of Diss, Harleston, Beccles and Bungay.

The scope of firms and organisations eligible to apply range from farmers, charities, woodland owners and forestry businesses, training providers, and those in the tourism industry.

Brian Iles, the county council's cabinet member for economic development, said: “This extra money is vital to the county, and this programme is a good example of that fact - with match funding put in by businesses meaning that the �10m we have secured will ultimately be doubled in terms of how much will be invested into the rural economies of the respective areas."

“Last year, for every �1 spent on economic development by the county council, the authority levered in an additional �35 from external sources - at least �77.15m in total.”

The County Council has been working with NRBAS, Suffolk County Council, district councils, the private sector and other partner organisations since early last year - in order to prepare bids to the East of England Development Agency for funding from the Rural Development Programme for England.

Local action groups (LAG) are already in place for each area - made up of representatives from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, who wished to have an input into the way the funding programme was developed and which projects are funded between now and 2013.

Facilitators will be employed to help businesses shape their ideas and helping them to apply for grant funding. They will also encourage collaborations of businesses that could work together on development of joint projects for grant funding.

Michael Mack, director of the Norfolk Rural Business Advice Service, said the cash could help persuade banks to lend to firms to help oil the credit crunch locally.

“At a time when the economic climate is going to really challenging, we have got an opportunity to for using public money to invest in the rural economy, to help businesses move forward,” he said. “By utilising the natural assets of each area and promoting their products and identity, all partners hope that the funding will create and expand businesses, help to support diversification of the rural economy and sustain rural communities.”

How the schemes will work:

The Brecks

This scheme will look to support farm-based diversification with a key focus on businesses which make use of waste or green energy options.

It will also look to develop effective links between local producers and local consumers of both energy sources and foods, build on the tourism potential of the area through collaboration and development of environmentally sensitive tourism and recreation, and assist businesses to adapt to the pressures on natural resources caused by both climate and demographic change.

The Brecks is an area under pressure for water used by agriculture. This pressure will increase with both the planned population growth for Thetford, and the anticipated temperature rise and drier summers due to climate change.

Ian Monson, chairman of The Brecks LAG and a county and district councillor, said: “Securing this grant funding for the Brecks region means we have an opportunity to adapt to the harsh economic conditions we are now facing.”

The Norfolk Coast and Broads

The programme will look to encourage the development of existing, and formation of new, businesses, based on the sustainable use of environmental assets, while improving the use of waste, energy and water resources to enhance the environment and improve competitiveness.

Waveney Valley

This project aims to work with businesses and communities to develop the area's identity and its wider awareness with a view to creating economic opportunities for tourism, local food and artisan businesses.