The theme was LEADER funding for rural business and although this sounded like extremely dry fare for eight o’clock in the morning I never turn down a free meal from a professional firm given what they charge for their services.
LEADER is a £1.4 million grant scheme, funded by the European Union, tailored by DEFRA and administered by Plumpton College. But if we were thinking that this might involve grant aid to buy a tractor we were soon disillusioned on that front. This was mostly about rural jobs through B&Bs, holiday lets or a retail outlet.
For lunch it was on to another firm of land agents. (If I had any qualms about making the most of the complimentary lunch on offer these were soon dispelled when one of the staff said: “Oh you’re Stephen Carr – it’s nice to put a face to the person I send all those bills to!”) The atmosphere in the tent was subdued. The firm is known for its high levels of expertise in grant applications both for agri environmental schemes and the basic payment scheme (BPS).
Knowing the difficulties that there have been with applications for this idiotic subsidy (that pays us to occupy land whether we produce any food or not) and knowing this firm handles hundreds of such applications, I mischievously asked a partner: “How’s it going?” His expression tightened into a manic stare. The blood drained from his normally rosy complexion. “Stephen,” he said, “it’s the worst thing I have ever been involved with professionally. The atmosphere is one of grim determination and there is still a long way to go.”
Next it was complimentary strawberries and cream washed down by a cup of tea, this time in a tent with a solicitor. Now the talk was of the growing difficulties of sorting out the consequences of the relentless rise in farmland values driven by interest in land from non-farmers in tax reliefs such as capital gains tax, roll over reliefs and inheritance tax.
In between advice on how to apply for a grant to build a holiday let, apply for the BPS or avoid inheritance tax the day was spent showing my 10 year old daughter the funfair, the horse show and the rows of country clothing sales outlets.
Someone told us that there were some farm animals tucked away in the corner of the show ground somewhere but I think they were pulling my leg.