Thursday, 11 July 2019
Department of Rural and Community Development
LEADER Programmes Administration
18. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the reason the allocation and processing of applications for LEADER funding is perceived as being slow; if there delays in this regard; if so, his plans to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30219/19]
The LEADER programme is very much driven at a local level by the Local Action Groups who administer the programme and approve projects in their respective areas.
The LEADER programme effectively commenced in the second half of 2016, following the signing of Funding Agreements with most of the LAGs. While there were some issues concerning the administrative requirements at the start of the programme, over the course of the last 2 years, I have implemented a series of actions to simplify the delivery of LEADER. These actions were developed in consultation with the Local Action Groups themselves.
I have previously highlighted the package of 31 actions I made to improve the programme. This package included:
1. A significant reduction in the number of checks that are carried out on project applications;
2. A standardised application form to assist applicants and streamline the approval process; and,
3. Revised and clarified procurement arrangements.
In addition, I have continued to make a number of additional changes, over and above the package of 31 actions, to further empower Local Action Groups to approve projects.
The impact of these changes is clear to see. 2,135 LEADER projects have been approved for funding of €75.8 million since the programme commenced. Almost 100 other Food and Co-operation projects have also been approved at national level, outside of the core budget available to the LAGs.
The amount of funding approved last year was over double that approved in 2017. This year alone, nearly 600 projects have already been approved.
While my Department will continue to examine ways to further enhance the programme, I am satisfied that changes already made have substantially improved the process for LEADER applicants.
The current LEADER programme effectively became operational in the second half of 2016, following the signing of Funding Agreements with most of the Local Action Groups (LAGs) who deliver the programme. Projects must be selected under the programme by the end of 2020, while payments will continue in 2021 and later years as necessary.
We are now making significant progress in the delivery of the LEADER programme. 2,135 project applications have been approved by the LAGs for funding of over €75.8 million. A further 383 projects seeking funding of €27.6 million are at earlier stages of the approvals process.
In addition, almost 100 projects have been approved at national level, outside of the core budget available to the LAGs, for Food and Co-operation projects.
The level of progress on the LEADER programme varies between each Local Action Group. However, on average, the LAGs have indicated that over 80% of their available project budget will be allocated by the end of 2019. This will place the LAGs in a strong position to allocate the full amount of funding available before the end of 2020.
Indeed, there is a growing demand for more LEADER funding to be made available in some areas. In this regard, I was very pleased to announce earlier this week that an additional €5 million will be shared between the LAGs that are most advanced in delivering the LEADER programme. This is further evidence of the huge progress made since my Department introduced a range of administrative improvements to the programme in 2017 and 2018.