OPINION: Budget Implications for North Devon – The Unwritten Script

North Devon Gazette

For the last four decades, Northern Devon and, in particular, its rural businesses have benefitted from a wide range of support initiatives from Government, both policy and funding.Â

Part of this support relied upon EU structural funds, which had been allocated in recognition of the significant levels of deprivation which had been identified.Â

The decision to leave the EU, and the subsequent actions around Brexit, mean that many of these funds are no longer ring-fenced for rural areas. Â

The Government had promised to replace these with a new fund – the Shared Prosperity Fund.  This is due to be launched in April 2022.  When it was first announced, it was stated that it would be a full replacement for the lost EU funding.  As part of the less visible publications that form part of the recent budget, we have now learnt that this new fund will not match the £1.5 billion of lost EU funding until 2025.  It will be £400 million in 2022 and £700 million in 2023.Â

This decision makes a mockery of the Government’s promise to ‘Level Up’.  It also has a profound effect on large parts of North Devon, who still desperately need these levels of support.Â

It is already known that Northern Devon has low levels of productivity by comparisons with National averages.  It is also known that the rural economy lags far behind these average figures in terms of economic wealth creation.  What, however, is important, is that these rural areas could be making a very valuable and rapid contribution to wealth creation.  A recent study has identified that targeted investment in the rural economy could add an estimated £43 billion to the national economy.  Northern Devon is poised to respond if given the chance to tackle these challenges.  It is disappointing that the Government seems to have no real ambition for boosting prosperity in rural areas and is simply further entrenching the rural urban divide.Â

A comprehensive lobbying campaign to highlight these issues would be a good starting point to ensure that Whitehall recognise that Northern Devon should be on their map.Â