Fresh concerns have been raised about the ’shambolic’ application process for rural development schemes, as applicants complain long delays in receiving funding is creating frustration and uncertainty.
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Government grant schemes are coming under fire as experts say the long delays in receiving grant funding is frustrating and leaving applicants in a state of uncertainty.
With 2,314 applicants this year, the Government’s Countryside Stewardship scheme has seen low interest which industry chiefs said came as ‘no surprise’.
But with the new scheme working under a competitive process, it is expected the number of applicants actually receiving the benefits will be significantly lower than those who have applied.
This is not only due to the competitive nature of the process, but also down to the length of time it is taking for final decisions to be made, leaving farmers and landowners in an uncertain position and unable to wait through the process time to find out whether they can invest in their land.
Rural consultant, Simon Haley said: “it is immensely frustrating that applicants who applied to the Countryside Productivity Scheme by the June 30 deadline have still not heard about the status of their applicants, whether successful or not.”
These timing issues are taking valuable opportunities away from the farms which need the funding most. For many who apply for a grant, Government funding is their only source of investment.
A forestry contractor from Oxfordshire, applying for the Countryside Productivity Scheme, who asked not to be named, said while the grant application process is usually speedy and efficient, this year the whole process has been a ‘complete shambles’.
He said: “We are now nine months into the application and are still none the wiser as to whether we will be receiving grant funding.
“Due to the nature of my business, this means we have now missed a whole year’s opportunity because of un-necessary waiting time.
“In an industry where margins are tight, it is important to make the most out of your waste. We haven’t been able to invest in new machinery to enable this which means we have lost quite a substantial amount of money.
“If we knew we weren’t going to receive the grant, we would have bought the machine through other means. We are all adults, we understand that where grants are concerned, you are either in or you are out.
“But to go this far through the process and still have no answer is unacceptable.”
Mr Haley went on to explain how for applicants who cannot wait any longer for a decision, it is an unnecessary expense of both time and money to apply only to then have to withdraw.
With Government LEADER programmes being launched recently, it is expected a similar situation is set to occur.
Mr Haley said: “Defra have consistently stated that these funding pots are competitive processes, but unfortunately a lot of worthwhile projects offering good value for money have had to be shelved or don’t even make to application stage, knowing that there could well be a 4-7 month timescale before a decision is made, nevermind actual expenditure being able to start.
“For the LEADER and Growth Programmes about to launch, this will see a similar cycle, one where publicity isn’t vocal enough, applicants apply at the last minute, everything goes silent for a number of months, and applicants drop out along the way either due to timing, expense, confusion in the guidance available, or losing faith in the system and getting cold feet about project eligibility and success.
“In principle, this is an exciting time for rural businesses, with a number of funds being available for growth and development, whether that is concerning the environment, on-farm productivity and efficiency, or projects that add to the local economy and offer community benefit.
“However, in reality, the earliest that grant funds will enter business bank accounts may not be until midway through 2016, which considering this is a new Rural Development Programme covering the period 2014-2020, is a real failure to get these funds out into the industry for business benefit.”