News Q&A: LEADER funding starts as local contracts signed

The first LEADER contracts are issuing to local action groups, in the first stage of provision of €250m in LEADER funding to support development of sustainable rural communities, up to 2020.

News Q&A: LEADER funding starts as local contracts signed

caption: Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy and Béaloideas Chiarraí-Kerry Folklore chairman Johnny Porridge O’Connor, right, with representatives of South Kerry Development Partnership, Kerry County Council, other sponsors, and community representatives.

Funding will be distributed by local action groups (LAGs) to rural communities in line with local development strategies for each sub-regional area.

Funding will commence under the programme as contracts are signed with the respective LAGs.

What is LEADER?

LEADER (which stands for Liaisons entre actions de developpement de l’économie rurale, Links between actions of rural development) uses a “bottom-up” or community-led local development approach.

All funding decisions are made at a local level by LAGs.

It is part of the Rural Development Programme 2014–2020 of measures to support rural Ireland, administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government administers the LEADER element to improve quality of life and encourage diversification of economic activity in rural areas.

What is a local action group?

LAGs are made up of public and private partners from the rural area, and must include representatives from different socio-economic sectors such as local development expertise, local authorities, community and voluntary organisations, etc.

The LAGS are selected by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, through an open and transparent selection process, to implement local development strategies.

The LAG is given the task of identifying and implementing a local development strategy, making project funding decisions, managing and accounting for expenditure.

Where a local and community development committee is successful in having its local development strategy selected for delivery through that process, it will act as the local action group.

What is the ‘bottom–up’ approach?

Local people are involved in developing the LEADER local development strategy (LDS) and selecting priorities for their area.

This includes members of the general population, economic and social interest groups, and representatives of public and private institutions.

All projects for funding must be in line with the LDS.

What is a local development strategy?

The LDS is a plan developed by the LAG through consultation facilitating participation by any member of the rural community, which take into consideration local needs and potential.

An LDS should examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and outline actions to address those.

How will LDSs be selected?

Ireland is conducting a two-stage process. Any entity wishing to be considered as a LAG was invited to submit an expression of interest.

For the 28 sub-regional areas, 45 expressions of interest were received.

A single expression of interest was received in 19 areas, and at least two in the remaining nine areas.

An independent evaluation committee was established to evaluate expressions of interests and LDSs. Those successful in the first stage were notified in July, 2015, and invited to submit an LDS.

At this stage, 32 strategies have been received from the 28 LEADER areas, of which 21 have been evaluated and 15 have reached the standard necessary to allow discussions on contracts and implementation to proceed.

The remaining 11 strategies will be evaluated.

Work will continue with six LAGs whose strategies have not yet reached the required standard.

How much funding is available?

There is an overall complement of €250m for 2014-2020 period, including €15m for two Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine artisan food schemes.

As the value of LEADER is less than in the 2007-2013 Programme, allocations per county have inevitably reduced. In determining county allocations, three criteria were used — minimum allocation, population density and a resource allocation model.

Available funding was weighted towards the most rural populations and those experiencing most rural disadvantage.

Each county was given a minimum allocation of €3m. Co Cork was allocated €6m, to ensure a viable allocation to each of the three administrative districts, as the population outside of the city is almost twice that of any other county.

Some €10.2m has been allocated to Kerry, 30% higher than the average allocation.

What projects will be eligible?

Rural tourism, enterprise development, rural towns, access to broadband, basic services targeted at hard-to-reach communities, rural youth, protection and sustainable use of water resources, protection and improvement of local biodiversity, and development of renewable energy.

What grant rates will be available?

This has yet to be finalised but it is expected that it will be up to 50% for private promoters and up to 75% for community organisations. Training activities may be funded up to 100%. Benefit in kind may also be used.

What areas will be covered?

In the overall draft rural development programme for Ireland, the five main cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, and Limerick have been excluded.

After that, it will be a matter for the LDSs to determine the area covered within the sub-regional area.

Will local authorities decide how the new LEADER funding will be allocated?

Having regard to their role in sub-regional areas, local authorities may form part of the membership of a LAG.

In some instances, and only where there is local agreement, local authorities may provide support for management and administration of LEADER elements.

However, all decisions regarding the allocation of LEADER funding will be made by the LAG as a whole.

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