Yesterday (Monday June 22) over 80 representatives of Northamptonshire’s rural economy attended the first Northamptonshire Rural Economy Conference,hosted by NEPat Moulton College.
To maximise the growth opportunities available for the rural sector, NEP and its partners are working together to strengthen links with rural networks and to identify the key issues impacting the development of the rural economy locally.
The conference was convened to enable an understanding – both at NEP and amongst rural partners and networks – of not only the priorities, but also the opportunities for European funding programmes that are becoming available to support the sector’s people, businesses and communities, and ultimately to ensure that evolving local programmes address the needs identified.
First to present at the conference was Emma Powlett, recently recruited to NEP to enable an expert and dedicated focus on the rural agenda, and specifically to support the development and implementation of a Rural Economy Growth Programme, and to lead on the development of a Rural Action Plan.
Focusing on the foremost challenges and opportunities ahead for rural Northamptonshire’s people, landscape, environment and business base, Ms Powlett gave an insightful overview of the rural economy and its key industrial sectors; Agriculture, Food & Drink, Tourism and Forestry.
20% of the county's jobs
Collectively these sectors are responsible for 20% of the county’s jobs and whilst some of the issues emphasised are unique to those living, working and growing a business rurally, many - such as the ongoing skills levels challenge - apply countywide.
Ms Powlett also highlighted the key challenge of retaining the sense of place in light of ongoing demand for development and growth, and protecting and enhancing Northamptonshire’s key natural and heritage features.
The Rural Economy Growth Programme will place a spotlight on the important work being undertaken both by and on behalf of the rural sector, and will ensure that calls for projects as a result of European funding programmes are widely promoted amongst rural networks and understood by those that can best impact the rural growth agenda as a result of financial support.
The NEP team was joined at the conference by Roger Allonby from the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who explained the many and varied grant and funding schemes available to the sector directly from central government, and the morning concluded with an expert panel for audience Q&A with representatives from NEP and DEFRA plus both LEADER programme Local Action Groups.
Next steps include the establishment of a Task and Finish Group for the Rural Action Plan, plus the sharing of a Rural Sector Funding Programme fact sheet, which NEP has committed to producing by July 2015.
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