Written Answers. - Leader Programmes.

Michael Ring

Question:

82 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the plans, if any, he has to allocate funding to continue the work of Leader groups in view of the fact that all projects under way must be completed by 30 June 2000; the plans, if any, he has to introduce the national rural development programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5056/00]

I expect the European Commission to finalise the guidelines for the new rural development initiative, Leader+, shortly following on the recent receipt of the observations of the European Parliament. Further consultation is taking place this week with member states and this should open the way to early approval of the guidelines.

Member states will then draw up operational programmes for Leader+ for forwarding to the Commission for approval with a view to commencement of the Leader+ programme as soon as possible.

Under the national development plan, funding of the order of £110 million will be available to support Leader-type activity in the period 2000-06. Some £35.4 million of this is to be provided by the EU in respect of the Leader+ programme. The balance will come from the Exchequer and will comprise national co-funding for Leader+ as well as support for a mainstream Leader-type measure. As with other measures provided for in the national development plan, approval by the European Commission is necessary to enable commencement of arrangements for the establishment of Leader mainstream activity.

Pending EU clearance for Leader+ activity and Leader mainstream activity under the NDP, it is not possible to define the precise arrangements for delivery. It is clear, however, that the Commission's intention is that funding will be confined to a limited number of rural areas and that the essential aim of the Leader+ measure will be to encourage the emergence and testing of new approaches to integrated and sustainable development.

The report of the task force on the integration of local government and local development systems requires that attention be given to the avoidance of overlap between agencies, including Leader groups and to explore mechanisms capable of combining rural development and rural partnership activities in rural disadvantaged areas specifically.

I recognise the importance of continuity in the delivery of Leader+ and Leader-type rural development programmes. Every effort will be made to establish the earliest implementation of the two new Leader measures. In this context, it may be possible to progress the mainstream Leader measure which will apply nationwide at a more rapid rate then Leader+ will allow. I am examining this possibility.
In the meantime, I have allocated funding to Comhar Leader,inter alia, to ensure that existing groups are fully familiar with the administrative requirements in regard to mandatory financial reporting of the conclusion of Leader II projects.