Rates relief for small businesses is a step in the right direction

THERE is no question general business confidence in Cumbria is growing.

A number of surveys have shown companies of all sizes - from so-called micro-businesses to large manufacturers - are finally seeing an end to the five-year recession.

However, there are sectors of the local economy that face ongoing difficulties, most notably tourism and farming.

Of the two, tourism probably has the greatest chance of catching up reasonably quickly. As the economic outlook improves, people are likely to spend more disposable income on leisure and the Lake District will be an obvious beneficiary.

In anticipation of an upturn, 30 Lake District tourist attractions have formed a joint marketing initiative, Cumbria’s Living Heritage. It aims to combine the disparate and limited marketing budgets of individual enterprises into a more potent resource.

Such co-operation has already been used to attract visitors to the Yorkshire Dales.

For farming, however, the problems - economic and otherwise - are not so easily overcome. Indeed many difficulties have not been caused by the recession. Livestock diseases, CAP reform and the problem of ensuring farm succession were all issues before the downturn and they will still be issues long after it ends.

One of the problems for farmers is the key agricultural budget decisions are all made in Brussels. The Government here can only tinker with the rules to a limited extent, moving the fixed pot of money between various conflicting farming and environmental interests, for example.

When ministers are free to apply subsidies as they wish, they sometimes come up with neat ideas - like rates relief for small businesses.

Such a move was voted on yesterday by South Lakeland District Council and the authority deserves a pat on the back for approving the initiative.

Although £1m might not seem a lot when spread around 1,500 businesses, it is a significant move in the right direction.

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