Written Answers. - Leader Programmes.

John Moloney

Question:

99 Mr. Moloney asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development when the new Leader+ and the new national Leader schemes will commence; the level of funding which will be available; the interim arrangements, if any, which will be put in place to fund existing groups pending the coming into being of the new schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4698/00]

I expect the European Commission to finalise the guidelines for the new rural development Initiative, Leader+, very 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 National 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 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 evelopment 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 than Leader+ will allow. I am examining this possibility.