There has been significant stakeholder engagement and consultation in developing the draft rural policy framework. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that it has had across rural areas, we have been reviewing the draft of the rural policy framework document to ensure that it reflects the ever-changing context, before going to public consultation. It has always been the intention that the rural policy framework will be a living document that is intended to be flexible and adaptable to change. Subject to securing the necessary approvals, I hope to launch a public consultation later this spring. It is anticipated that the rural policy framework proposals will be available for an eight-week online consultation period. Officials continue to deliver a range of schemes to support rural communities and businesses, with just over £20 million having been invested in rural development programmes in the financial year just finished.
I thank the Minister for his answer. The Minister will be aware that the community renewal fund was launched by the British Government as a main plank of the Shared Prosperity Fund. Can the Minister provide any information on that fund and whether there will be a consultation on trying to protect rural communities and giving them opportunities to access that scheme?
I certainly hope that there will be the opportunity for consultation on the Shared Prosperity Fund. Obviously, that is a scheme that is being delivered directly by the Westminster Government. Unlike others, I do not complain about it, because, ultimately, it is additional money for Northern Ireland. It is additional money for the people whom we represent. I will not decry it just because it is not us distributing it, just I did not decry the EU money when it was coming. This money will replace some of the structural funds etc that came from the European Union. I welcome that and will seek to influence it as best I can for the benefit of my constituents.