The Rural Shops Alliance (RSA) has secured government backing for a pilot project that could transform the levels of support available to rural retailers.

At a recent meeting with officials at government department DEFRA, rural affairs minister Jim Knight agreed to adopt the RSA’s proposed new support structure for rural retailing in a test project in six counties in south west England.

Under the new structure, regional development agencies would act as “funders”, the various Business Links would act as “brokers”, while the RSA would implement support at retail level through a network of regional or county co-ordinators to ensure that stores on the edge of viability had access to specialist training plus business and retail advice.

The Alliance has long held the view that a lack of structure and clarity in agency responsibility have led to poor delivery of support at retail level and the absence of planning for the future. For example, some counties have a dedicated system of retail advisers for rural stores in place, while across the county boundary there is no support network at all.

The RSA’s plan has come out of two key meetings with retailers, regional and county officials and stakeholders such as the Post Office and Camelot. The RSA will now meet with the relevant Regional Development Agency to sort out funding for the project.

RSA chief executive Sean Carter was delighted to get the green light from the government.

He said: “This is a very exciting development that can only improve support for retailers. The details have not yet been finalised, but we expect to see these sorted by early April, with a further meeting with Jim Knight to follow in May.”

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