He said: 'There is £500,000 money now ready and waiting for rural projects in Scotland. The aim of the Rural Challenge Fund is to encourage local people to draw up projects which find new ways to tackle particular local problems or to create a wider range of opportunities in rural areas.
'The Bidding Guidance sets out how to apply to the Rural Challenge and is to be sent to a wide range of individuals and groups active in rural communities.
'Total resources available to the Rural Challenge Fund are £500,000 and project grants will be awarded for a minimum of one year and a maximum of three years to a maximum of £50,000 over the projects life. Both revenue and capital funding can be applied for. The Rural Challenge Fund will run as a competition and the successful projects foannounced at the end of July this year.
-- Diversification of the local economy, particularly extending the radustries and occupations
-- New approaches to rural enterprise and setting up new businesses
-- Encouragement of women and young people to take up work, including the provision of childcare and training facilites. Enhancement of the built and natural environment and the promotion of good design and integration with their rural location
-- Better health/better quality of life for local people through access to and housing
-- A reduction in the crime rate and the fear of crime
-- Decreasing isolation of minority, ethnic and other disadvantaged groups.