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Business Advice (Rural Areas)

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 21 June 2007

16. What support is provided by his Department for the giving of business advice to farmers and other rural enterprises. (144199)

Support to both urban and rural businesses, including farmers, is provided by regional development agencies, as part of their mainstream business support services delivered through the Business Link network. Those activities are funded through the RDA single programme. Support through the rural development programme for England, to make agriculture and forestry more competitive, will also be delivered through RDAs.

Will my hon. Friend explain in a little more detail how his Department will make advice to farmers available through the regional development agency for farmers who wish to diversify? I have 400 farmers scattered around the beautiful parts of the Aire, Worth and Wharfe valleys.

I am well aware that my hon. Friend is a keen champion of her local farming community. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his speech to the royal show last year, spoke about farm diversification and the need to examine the barriers that farmers experience when trying to diversify their farm businesses. The report that has come back shows that 50 per cent. of farmers in England have some form of diversified activity, and for almost 60 per cent. of those farm businesses that income accounts for a quarter or more of the total farm income, so that is a key area. We will ensure through the rural development programme for England, administered by the RDAs, that axis 1 and axis 3 of the programme deliver about £600 million of benefit to rural communities, much of it to the effect that my hon. Friend mentioned.