Rural focus for business support

A £750,000 initiative to improve access to support services from rural businesses across the East of England has been launched in Suffolk.

A £750,000 initiative to improve access to support services from rural businesses across the East of England was launched in Suffolk yesterday.

Rural Gateway is being funded by the East of England Development Agency to build on work already begun in the region by Business Links, ADER (Agricultural Development in the Easter Region) and - more locally - SuRE (Suffolk Rural Enterprise).

However, the new money - to be spent over a relatively short time-scale, up to March 2007 - will not only bring these services together but will extent the facility to some businesses not eligible under the existing schemes.

The definition of “rural” businesses has for some time extended beyond farms, country pubs and village shops to all businesses located in the countryside, but the Rural Gateway will also be open to firms servicing rural areas, even if they happen to be based in nearby towns.

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Rural business campaigner Caroline Cranbrook, who was guest speaker at yesterday's launch - held at the Felix Cobbold Centre at Otley - said the launch of Rural Gateway showed some foresight by government and the rural development agencies, such as EEDA.

Small and medium sized enterprises were “at the very heart” of the nation's economy, with SMEs representing 90% of all businesses in the UK.

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However, rural businesses generally suffered from isolation - from each other and from the main business community - and farming was currently in real crisis, facing delays in the new-style farm support payments following the reform on the Common Agricultural Policy and having to complete with food produced overseas to standards far below those required in the UK.

The Rural Gateway service should enable businesses to access advice in important areas such as marketing and regulation, and help then to create the rural employment needed for the economy of the countryside to be genuinely sustainable.

June Davenport, rural enterprise manager at Business Link for Suffolk, said the free advice offered by Rural Gateway would be available for stand-alone start-up businesses, diversifications and existing businesses seeking to grow.

Services available would include marketing, finance, computers and regulation, and personal crisis issues.

Locally, two new members of staff had been taken on at Business Link for Suffolk to operate the service - Jean Turnbull and Jean Knott - and if they were not able to help they would find someone who could, although outside advice might be chargeable.

n To contact Rural Gateway, call 08456 009006, email or visit .

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