Thursday, 5 November 2020
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the LEADER funding programme; if there are plans for this programme to be extended to 2021 and beyond; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34472/20]
One fear that many people have facing into difficult economic times is that schemes such as the LEADER funding programme would be abandoned, suspended or reduced in value. I know the Minister is aware that the LEADER programme is a vital tool which allows many organisations in rural Ireland to develop. What is the status of the LEADER funding programme and are there plans to run this programme or have it extended to 2021 and beyond?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The current 2014- 2020 LEADER programme will come to an end this year. Under the seven-year programme, €168.7 million was allocated to the local action groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme at local level, for project approvals up to 31 December 2020. As of November, 3,530 projects with a value of over €139 million have been approved for LEADER funding by the LAGs. A further 341 projects requesting over €21 million in funding are at various stages in the approval process.
Proposals for a successor LEADER programme at EU level are intrinsically linked to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, which co-funds the LEADER programme. Proposals for the post-2020 CAP were launched in June 2018 by the European Commission. However, given the lengthy nature of discussions on the CAP and the wider EU budget at EU level, there has been a delay in adopting these proposals. This means that the next LEADER programme will not commence until January 2022 at the earliest.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to prioritise a State-led programme to bridge the gap between the current LEADER programme and the next EU programme. The objective of this commitment is to allow local-led rural development projects to be delivered under a transitional programme until the new EU programme commences.
An extra €4 million has been provided for LEADER in Budget 2021, to bring the total allocation for next year to €44 million. This allocation will be used to fund a combination of existing projects as they come to completion, for new projects to be approved under the transitional programme and to support the administration costs of the LAGs in closing out the existing programme and delivering the transitional programme.
It is important to recognise that LEADER is a multi-annual programme and that payments in respect of projects which are approved in any given year are generally not drawn down until subsequent years, as and when they are completed. In this context, costs related to projects under the transitional programme are also likely to be met from the provision in my Department's Vote in 2022 and 2023. I hope to be in a position shortly to announce the details of the transitional programme.
I am delighted to hear that. LEADER is a French acronym which, when translated, means links between actions for the development of the rural economy. It is an initiative to support rural development and projects initiated at local level to revitalise rural areas and create jobs. I understand that the LEADER programme is co-funded by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, but it has benefited Wexford to the tune of €10 million over the 2014 to 2020 period. That is greatly appreciated but I am not sure that we can do without it in this torrid time and in terms of what is to come. In the current climate, many enterprises in rural communities will end up closed permanently but job creation and enterprise development will be more crucial than ever before. I ask the Minister to take that on board. I would like further clarification on the transition period but she said she might write to me in that regard. With regard to some of the funding that is ongoing, can the Minister tell me when that will be decided or some of the programmes that are in train?
I thank the Deputy. It is important to say first that there will be a transitional programme but there are many projects and therefore the LEADER companies will be very busy over the next year or year and a half in terms of finishing the projects. They have until the end of this year to make the further announcements. In terms of the figures, there are 3,500 projects approved to a value of €139 million. A further 341 projects are requesting more than €21 million in funding and they are at various stages in the approval process. There are more projects to be announced. They have until the end of the year to announce them. They have another year and a half to make sure these projects get the funding, to work with the promoters and to ensure they are delivered in terms of what they are trying to achieve on those projects. There is a good deal of work to be done by the LEADER companies in the next year and a half. In addition, I have committed to providing a transitional programme. I am working on those details and I will have the information in a short time. There is no particular panic at the moment because they have a fair bit on their plates. I am very conscious of the good work they do. In Wexford, their budget is €7.5 million. A total of 153 projects have been approved to date worth €5.9 million and more than €2.7 million is being paid out in respect of completed works. There is a good bit of work to be done so they will be kept busy.
The can be assured that they will be kept busy and that is where I am coming from. We have two well-known food businesses in Wexford that were helped through the LEADER programme to the tune of approximately €250,000. They are Kelly's Bakery in Wexford town, which is now a household brand, and Wexford Home Preserves in New Ross. In the climate of Brexit that is about to be upon us, these companies need as much help as possible to be able to market their product in the future. To clarify, did the Minister say the transitional funding will be €4 million?
No. I got an extra €4 million in my baseline. The budget for LEADER for 2020 was €40 million. There is an extra €4 million in the baseline for next year. There is a total of €44 million available next year to fund existing projects and to develop a transition programme.