Tuesday, 11 March 2014
Leader Programmes Funding
I raise the new Leader programme 2014 to 2020. I wish to ascertain the level of funding that will be available from the State to co-fund the moneys available under the European Commission proposals. It is my understanding that the new Leader programme will involve 54% of EU funding which will require 46% of national funding to be secured. That will mean a cut in the region of €87 million to Leader funding. Overall funding has been reduced from €370 million from €283 million under the current Leader programme. That amounts to a cut of approximately 23%. I hope that is not the case and that the Minister will clarify what discussions are taking place, what level of funding will be put in place and what efforts are being made. The funding comes under the remit of the Common Agricultural Policy. While I appreciate that it is a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and that is the Department engaged in the negotiations, the reason I raise the issue is because the Leader programme comes within the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
I raise the alignment process as a caveat to the funding issue. Concern has been expressed by local development companies around the country at the proposed alignment process by which Leader funding will come under the remit of local authorities. I would like an update from the Minister as to what is happening. The crux of the issue is the funding that will be available. There is currently a stop-gap arrangement as funding under the previous Leader programme has run out and local community development organisations who administer the current scheme are not able to fund new projects. Given the lack of opportunity for community groups to apply for funding, is there a mechanism by which funding can be made available? What level of funding remains to be drawn down in the current Leader programme? The Minister might not have the answers tonight but I seek clarification on the questions asked.
Ireland has agreed with the European Union funding to the value of €2.1 billion for the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. The governing EU regulations provide that a minimum allocation of 5% of that funding goes to the Leader programme. The Government has decided to increase that to 7%, which I welcome. Therefore, €153 million in EU funding will be available to Leader during 2014 to 2020 and will be co-financed by Exchequer funding. The Senator is correct that the level of co-financing has yet to be determined. Discussions are ongoing with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the matter. Following conclusion of the discussions I will be in a position to announce the overall value of the Leader elements of the programme. The discussions are not yet completed but they are likely to be completed in April.
The second question related to alignment. We have had a number of meetings recently, including last week, on the role of the local community development committee and the role of the community structure. We made substantial progress. Equally, because of the community and local authorities coming together through the local community development company, we have to work out the nuts and bolts of the arrangements as to who will do what in terms of the roles and responsibilities involved. Public accountability is important in the disbursement of the money. The moneys will be paid to local community development committees through the director of finance in local authorities but the local community sector will be involved in a series of activities which will be the subject of discussion in the coming weeks. We are confident that we will be able to work out arrangements. The level of administrative finance that is required from a community point of view, in addition to the employment and contractual obligations of boards of Leader companies will be less onerous because the responsibility will be taken over by the local authority. I hope that will be helpful to the boards of directors of Leader companies who are worried about these matters on the conclusion of the Leader round of funds.
On the previous occasion coming up to 2007 there was an end to the programme and it took two years for the following programme to commence. I am anxious that there will be a shorter gap before getting the next round of programme funds going in early 2015. Most of the companies will be able to continue in their contractual sense, in particular the local development companies, up to the end of this year. if companies have enough money administratively to continue to the end of the year they will be able to do so but I hope the short gap between the end of this programme and the beginning of the new programme will amount to not more than a couple of months.
Senator Ó Domhnaill is aware that all of the money has been committed at this stage. I have asked Leader companies to tell me if they had projects in 2009, 2010 and 2011 that are not going ahead so that the funding can be reallocated. All of the companies have indicated that the projects are committed and none of them will be discontinued. I must take them at their word because they are private companies. We have no other money to allocate except to roll out all of the moneys that have been committed and to meet those commitments during the course of 2014.