HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 c1096
18. Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD)

If she will make a statement on the termination of the Countryside Agency's vital villages grant scheme. [174420]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Akin Michael)

Vital villages was established in 2001 as a three-year programme, so it should come as no surprise that the Countryside Agency has announced that the scheme is closed to new applicants. All existing grant commitments will be met, and some £14.2 million will be spent in 2004–05 supporting action by and in rural communities.

Norman Lamb

I thank the Minister for his response. The vital villages scheme has provided funding for some valuable schemes in north Norfolk, including the revitalisation of village shops. Many people who have applied for grants are frustrated by the plethora of different routes that they have to take to get money, which often means that it is the most informed communities—the ones that know how to play the system—that get hold of the money. Is there not a case for rationalisation—making sure that money is available and goes to the communities that need it most?

Alun Michael

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making an excellent point. He is absolutely right to be concerned about the plethora of funding streams, which is why my right hon. Friend established the inquiry that was undertaken by Lord Haskins and why some of the emphasis of her forthcoming statement on the refreshed rural strategy is about simplification of funding streams. Since DEFRA was set up, we have been keen to get better evidence about where disadvantage lies in rural communities rather than, as he suggested, merely allowing those who are best informed get to the source of finance first—I nearly said get to the trough first, but that was the previous question. The publication of work by the Rural Research Centre in January will be the start of our having the quality of information to help rural communities that we have been able to take for granted in urban regeneration for many years. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman clearly welcomes that.