£1.7 million rural business fund launched for Northern Ireland

A new £1.7 million stimulus fund to help rural and micro-businesses expand, innovate and sustain rural communities has been launched by Northern Ireland Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots today (July 30).

Minister Poots called for applications to the £1 million Rural Micro Business Growth Pilot Scheme and the £700,000 Rural Business Development Grant Scheme, during a tour of Hamilton Erskine Ltd in Ballygowan, manufacturers of specialist electrically-switched privacy glass.

Following his visit, Minister Poots said: “Covid-19 has hit Northern Ireland’s business community hard, and micro and small business owners, particularly in our rural areas, have been impacted by a downturn in trade.

“My meeting with Hamilton Erskine today has highlighted the impact of Covid has had, but also shown how a funding investment under the current EU LEADER Programme, will help their business to innovate.

The NI Executive has put its focus towards recovery and part of that is to help rural businesses have the confidence to invest and expand, and to stimulate economic growth and development.

“The £1.7million stimulus fund I have launched today aims to do just that. I encourage those eligible to apply for this funding.”

Speaking about the Rural Micro Business Growth Scheme, the minister said: “This scheme will provide an opportunity for rural micro-businesses, new and existing, to apply for a grant of between £5,000 and £40,000 to invest in innovation and new technologies which will improve efficiency and productivity, create growth in the rural economy and make a positive climate-related contribution.”

Rural Business Development Grant Scheme

Minister Poots explained the £700,000 Rural Business Development Grant Scheme will be targeted at micro-businesses.

Image source PressEye DAERA
Image source: Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye

“[The scheme] will provide capital grant assistance of up to £5,000 for the purchase of equipment or machinery for new business practices or scheduled growth plans and will also support building adaptations internal and external to facilitate new ways of working,” he said.

“It is vital that we support our rural businesses to sustain and grow and I hope that the allocation of up to £1.7 million across these schemes demonstrates my department’s commitment to helping rural communities.

I have no doubt that this will generate a positive economic response from our resilient and innovative rural businesses.

Who can apply?

The department defines ‘rural micro-enterprises’ as those employing fewer than 10 full-time employees.

For the purposes of the two schemes, ‘rural’ is defined as all those areas outside the statutory development limits of those towns with a population in excess of 5,000 inhabitants.

The minimum grant support available for the Rural Micro Business Growth Scheme is £5,000. The grant will fund up to 50% of eligible costs with a cap of £40,000 on the total amount paid.

The Rural Business Development Grant Scheme, however, will provide grants of up to £4,999 at an intervention rate of 50% of eligible costs for existing rural businesses.

The Rural Micro Business Growth Scheme is a pilot and the outcomes and lessons from this scheme will contribute to the development of a future programme under the Rural Policy Framework.