A NEW independent report claims the rural economy of Yorkshire and Humberside is getting back to pre-foot-and-mouth prosperity.

Much of the recovery is put down to the intervention and support of Yorkshire Forward - actions which should be used as a guide by other regional development agencies.

The survey showed that more than 5,000 jobs were safeguarded or created and more than 900 businesses supported or created through its interventions. That was a considerable bonus, as intervention was initially planned to stabilise businesses and job losses hit by the crisis, rather than create jobs.

The disease broke out in the region in March 2001 and there were 139 cases, mostly in North Yorkshire. The region was finally declared free of foot-and-mouth in December 2001.

A regional task force was established that March by the Government Office for Yorkshire and Humber, with £250,000 of Yorkshire Forward funding for emergency measures. Further Government and Yorkshire Forward funding was provided over the succeeding months, with Yorkshire Forward providing a total of £6m of its own resources, more than any other rural development agency.

In a process led by Business Link York and North Yorkshire, support included hardship grants of £2,000 to 500 businesses; £500,000 to 22 collaborative ventures such as business associations; individual business grants of up to £15,000 for medium-term recovery and £4m for a Regional Economic Recovery Programme for projects focusing on business development, tourism, food and agriculture and environment.

With foot-and-mouth at its peak, the rural economy's prosperity fell by almost a fifth; by the end of 2001 it had recovered to a net 10pc loss and by the end of last year this had fallen further to 5pc below pre-crisis levels.

A £1.5m tourism campaign boosted bed occupancy from second from bottom to coming second to London.

Yorkshire Forward's Rural Economic Recovery Plan led to 460 new jobs and safeguarded a further 4,500; prompted 170 new business start-ups and assisted more than 750 businesses.

About £22m of spending power was secured for the rural economy through jobs being protected by the business recovery fund.

Sir Graham Hall, chairman of Yorkshire Forward, said its leadership on foot-and-mouth had been bold and direct. "Yorkshire Forward took a measured risk in tackling the crisis and this has delivered good returns," he said. "Speed of intervention was an important part of our success but the impact of the support offered was more significant than expected and has delivered longer-term economic benefits and built strong relationships with the rural community.

"Key lessons to be learned include the RDA leadership role; relations with Government, and removing red tape from our support schemes. The effectiveness of direct business development grants on long-term business viability when awarded on sound business advice and their ability to generate wider economic returns is an important outcome to inform future RDA interventions."

Helen West, chief executive of Business Link York and North Yorkshire said: "We were delighted to be asked by Yorkshire Forward to take the lead, on behalf of Business Links in the region, to help businesses develop their plans to recover from the impact of foot-and-mouth and, on that basis, help them gain access to recovery funding."

Copies of the report will now be presented to Defra and the Department for Trade and Industry