Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the reason his Department has not approved any Leader projects since the 29 January 2013; the amount of money left to approved for projects under the Leader programme by the 31 December 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12864/13]
In late 2011, the European Commission approved a change in the maximum co-funding rate from 55% to 85% for axes 3 and 4 of Ireland’s rural development programme 2007-2013. Prior to this the axes 3 and 4 rural development measures were co-funded at a rate of 55% by the EU, with the remaining 45% coming from national Exchequer resources. The 2011 agreement reduced the national Exchequer input to 15% on a net basis for 2012 and 2013, without a concomitant increase in the amount of funding to be provided by the EU. This resulted in a reduction in the overall programme complement from €427 million to approximately €314 million on the basis of the programme achieving full spend by the end of 2013.
In this context the original project allocations given to each local development company, LDC, contracted to deliver the Leader elements of the rural development programme required readjustment. We are currently carrying out an exercise to determine the level of project commitments across all LDCs and all rural development programme measures in order to complete the rebalancing of the programme in as equitable a way as possible. In addition, given the levels of spending by the LDCs from 2009 to date, it is very unlikely that full spend will be achieved by the end of 2013. The co-funding rate will revert to 55% for all expenditure beyond the end of 2013 and as a consequence of this the overall programme requirement will also change.
Until such time as this careful rebalancing exercise has been satisfactorily completed, it is not possible to be definitive regarding the remaining funding available for project commitments under axis 3 and of the rural development programme. However, I expect this exercise to be completed shortly.
Would the Minister agree that the Department believes that the overall programme complement will be approximately €370 million and that this will give a project complement of approximately €296 million? Does he agree that he will have to allow for projects that will be approved and will not happen and that these could probably amount to €40 million? Does he agree that at the moment, the total commitment is for only €183 million, which means that at a minimum well in excess of €100 million remains to be committed? Does he agree that all of these commitments must be entered into by the end of 2013?
I agree with the figures mentioned. There is a requirement to look at the balance of funding now, arising from the big increase in the number of applications that have come in during the past few months. Officials have wisely decided to have a look at those applications to see what level of funding will be required to meet them if they are successful and to see what funds will remain for the rest of the year. We are anxious to spend as much of the money as we possibly can between now and the end of the year. I expect that within the next ten days - by the end of next week - we will be in a better position to see the precise level of funding available for community projects between now and the end of the year.
The Minister agrees with his Department's figures that point to a worst case scenario in which €100 million will have to be committed between now and the end of the year. Does he agree that he should allow approvals to proceed as normal? There is plenty of headroom there. If we hold up the Leader companies, we might be unable to draw down all the European funds under this programme. This could have a knock-on effect on the drawdown of funds under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Does the Minister agree that it was wrong to stop these commitments? We are so far short of the full level of possible commitments that there is no danger of overspending on this programme. Does the Minister accept that not all of the approved projects will happen in reality? Backup projects need to be approved before the end of the year to take their place. Does the Minister agree that the actual spend to date - €82 million, which is a very low figure - is more than €200 million less than the total amount of money in the programme? In fact, the Minister has made a big mistake in this programme, as he has in many other areas.
Unlike the Deputy, I did not cost people an additional €45 when they had to register their septic tanks. That is what happened to people in his constituency, the west of Ireland and elsewhere when the Deputy changed his mind very quickly. Like the Deputy, I am anxious to ensure we spend as much money as possible under these programmes. Some of the various axes under which funding is provided might be overspent. Some of the other measures might be underspent. We are carrying out a prudent assessment of where the funds are, in terms of the applications that have come in over recent months. Having served as a Minister, I am sure the Deputy will be careful to avoid criticising the prudent approach being taken by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Department is anxious to ensure it reorients and readjusts its spend to cater for the big demand that exists in our communities. It will facilitate approvals as quickly as it can. There have been many large-scale approvals since Christmas. That is certainly welcome. We expect that many projects can be approved in every Leader company area in the next couple of months, with a view to having the fund drawn down by the end of the year.