THE Government has been warned that the Leader programme will collapse unless bureaucracy and red tape are removed and companies are given more flexibility.
IFA Rural Development Committee chairman Tom Turley said bureaucracy is leading to many projects not being pursued.
In some cases, the administrative costs associated with individual projects are greater than the grants given out, he claimed.
Mr Turley said the assertion of Community, Equality and the Gaeltacht Minister Pat Carey that all of the €425 million available to the seven-year programme will be spent does not stand up.
“With two and a half years of the programme completed, only 6.5% of the funds available have been spent,” he said.
Mr Turley also questioned whether the administration of Leader is suffering from the dead hand of Government.
“It is unfair on project promoters and local Leader companies to be landed with high administrative costs while in fear of department inspectors turning down projects after the investment is made.
“Leader projects should not be treated like big industrial projects. Application forms should be simplified in a similar way to farm schemes, particularly for small-scale projects,” he added.
Mr Turley said an admission by department officials that a penalty could arise across all other rural development measures if the Leader money is not spent is totally unacceptable. Farm schemes should not be penalised for slowness in spending funds.
Leader must be allowed to work so that support to farmers and rural-based companies leads to increased economic activity and rural jobs, he said.
However, local groups were assured by Mr Carey two weeks ago that he is determined every cent of the €425m rural development funding allocated to Ireland would be spent by the time the programme ends in 2013.
He met with groups from all over Ireland at the Tipperary Institute in Thurles to discuss the operation and potential of the programme and how best to deliver on the funding.
Mr Carey said his discussions with the local action groups were extremely beneficial to all parties. They aimed to debate issues that have led to problems implementing the programme.
“I think we were successful in doing that and I am confident we can make further progress in realising the potential of Leader,” he said.
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