Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring has described as ‘amazing’ the €19 million spent on administration of the Leader rural development programme, while development project expenditure only amounts to €6 million.
“If Leader programmes are not drawing down funding, I can see if the money should be redirected to other companies that are spending the money”, he warned.
Leader has a total budget of €250 available for funding eligible projects from 2014 to 2020.
It is co-funded by the EU and funding is delivered through Local Action Groups (LAGs) in each of the 28 Leader sub-regional areas around the country.
The three-fold spend on administration by LAGs compared to grant payments for rural development which has surprised Minister Ring is the latest in many setbacks for the Leader scheme.
It grew out of a bottom-up approach to rural development outlined in Ray MacSharry’s report in 1991 on CAP reform, based on initatives from within , and Ireland became known in the EU as a successful user of the eader programme.
However, local government reforms instigated by Phil Hogan reduced the autonomy of locally created development groups, and gave local auhorities greater roles in LEQDER.
Minister Ring said: “We made 31 changes to simplify the programme, and we must comply with European Union regulation and rules. We looked at the schemes and the programme, including ways to make it easier for people to make applications.”
“It should be remembered there are supplementary schemes as well, including the town and village scheme and those relating to outdoor recreation and rural regeneration. There are many other schemes where people can now make an application.
“I have been told by some people working in Leader programmes that groups intended making an application but did not do so because they got funding elsewhere,”said the Minister in the Dail.
He also gave the Dail details of which areas are achieving the highest development project expenditures,in terms of project expenditure incurred to date.
Out of a total of €6,724,396.29, Donegal leads the way with expenditure of €1,089,300.20. Next comes Waterford with €899,438.80. Offaly has €539,120.35; Sligo €501,580.63; Carlow €494,755.79; and Kerry €447,287.07. Elsewhere in Munster, Tipperary has €312,812 spent to date on rural development projects, followed by Clare with €236,728.83, Cork North with €206,245.72, Cork South with €20,000.00, Cork West with €20,933.30, and Limerick with zero expenditure (the Galway Rural Development and Kildare Local Action Groups also have zero expenditure.
Nearly all the project expenditure was incurred in 2018.
Minister Ring said project payments increased significantly in recent months, as approved works are completed and claims for payment submitted by the project promoters.
More than 1,300 projects with a value of more than €39 million have been approved in Leader.A further 325 projects with a value of €20.8 million are at an earlier stage in the approvals process.