I thank the select committee for its invitation to attend the discussion on the Further Revised Estimate for my Department for 2019. A short briefing note has been circulated to members. It provides a summary of the programme areas in the Department and sets out the planned expenditure in 2019 across the programme areas.
Before highlighting some of the details of expenditure in 2019, I will mention briefly the performance of the Department in 2018. Last year was its first full year of operation. While there were many challenges in establishing it, the allocation provided for me in 2018 was almost fully utilised. In total, €236.8 million was spent of an allocation of €238.5 million. As such, 99.3% of our allocation was spent, with the unspent money related mainly to savings on salary and administration costs. In real terms, this means that we have delivered for communities and rural areas through a wide range of programmes and projects. I am determined that we will continue this progress in 2019 and that the budget allocation provided for the Department will be put to best use to continue to support communities across the country.
I will mention briefly the importance of my Department's mission for the Government and citizens. Rural Ireland plays a vital role in the economic and social fabric of the country. Our sense of community across Ireland is what makes the country what it is. The establishment of my Department was an important step in strengthening Government support for this area. Project Ireland 2040 has built further on that support. It recognises the economic and social importance of rural Ireland and the critical role of communities in ensuring a good quality of life for all. Strengthening rural economies and communities is one of the core objectives of Project Ireland 2040 and the provision of €1 billion through the rural regeneration and development fund ensures that funding will be available to deliver on that objective in the coming years.
On the allocations to the Department, gross expenditure of €291 million is budgeted for in 2019. This represents an increase of €60 million, or 26%, on the 2018 provision. The €291 million budget consists of €153 million in current expenditure and €138 million in capital expenditure. In terms of the split across programmes, €138 million has been allocated for expenditure on rural development programmes, €148 million has been allocated for expenditure on community development programmes, while €4.6 million has been provided for the Charities Regulator.
The €138 million allocation for rural development programmes consists of €123 million in capital expenditure and €15 million in current expenditure. I have allocated €52 million for the rural regeneration and development fund this year. The aim of the fund is to support ambitious projects that can drive the economic and social development of rural towns, villages and their surrounding areas. The first call for applications took place in July 2018 and 280 applications were received. Following the assessment process, 84 successful projects have been allocated €86 million in funding. It will be leveraged with a further €31 million in matching funding, representing a total of €117 million in capital investment across rural Ireland.
It is vital that we continue to build resilience in rural communities and make towns and villages vibrant places for families to live. It is also particularly appropriate, with Brexit approaching, that we continue to strengthen the rural economy and support sustainable development. The projects being funded are targeted at sectors in which they can have the greatest economic and social impact. For example, €13.6 million will be invested in the national mountain biking project which will develop recreational facilities in four locations across seven counties. In addition, €5.5 million will be invested in Athenry to assist in developing the town into a major food and tourism centre. Investments such as these will transform many rural towns, villages and outlying areas by delivering projects in sectors such as tourism, agrifood and recreation. I expect a second call for applications under the rural regeneration and development fund to be launched later this year. While the fund is important for the future development of rural Ireland, I also remain focused on ensuring the continued success of existing rural schemes and programmes. It is important that the funding schemes and programmes provide for a coherent approach to supporting rural Ireland and communities. As well as focusing on large-scale projects through the fund, we will continue to support smaller projects and groups throughout Ireland. Such projects can have a major impact for local areas and communities.
For 2019, I have allocated €30 million in capital funding for the LEADER programme. As I have noted for the committee previously, the LEADER programme is demand-led, with the level of funding required dependent on the number of projects that have moved through the approval process. The allocation provided in 2019 is based on the level of activity in 2018, which was lower than originally planned. However, there has recently been an increase in activity. There are now 1,800 projects approved for funding by local action groups, LAGS, to a value of more than €62 million. There are another 377 projects going through the approval process, with a value of €23.4 million. This progress is to be welcomed and demonstrates that the changes I have made to the scheme are working. The programme is now delivering for rural communities and I will be closely monitoring developments in the coming months to ensure this progress is maintained.
The other key rural development allocations in 2019 are €20.3 million for national rural development schemes, €15 million for the town and village renewal scheme and €10 million for the local improvement scheme, LIS. The allocation for national rural development schemes comprises €5.3 million in current funding and €15 million in capital funding. The capital allocation will ensure continued investment in the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and CLÁR. I expect approximately 180 new outdoor recreation projects to be funded in 2019. The current allocation for national rural development schemes has increased by €2 million. The additional funding will be used to double the funding for the walks scheme. This is welcome and recognises the contribution landowners make to local tourism by facilitating safe access to well maintained walking trails on their lands.
The town and village renewal scheme is an important part of the Government's work to rejuvenate rural Ireland. It is having a significant impact on towns and villages across the country. The benefits of previous funding under the scheme are being felt nationwide. Since it was introduced in the second half of 2016, almost €53 million has been approved for more than 670 projects across the country. I expect the 2019 allocation of €15 million to support over 200 new town and village renewal projects.
As Deputies will be aware, the local improvement scheme supports investment in non-public rural roads to enable people to access their homes and farms. The 2019 allocation of €10 million will bring to over €47 million the amount invested in this programme area since I reintroduced the scheme in September 2017.
The allocation of €148 million for community development programmes comprises €133 million in current expenditure and €15 million in capital expenditure. As the committee is aware, the Department administers a range of programmes which support individuals and the community and voluntary sector as a whole. The two most significant community development programmes in terms of expenditure are the community services programme, CSP, and the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP.
The CSP provides financial support for community organisations to deliver local services through a social enterprise model. The funding supports the cost of employing a manager or a specific number of full-time equivalents. The Futher Revised Estimate contains a provision of €46 million for the CSP. This will ensure it will continue to benefit over 400 organisations nationwide. Over 1,900 people are supported by the programme. A few weeks ago I announced an independent review of the CSP which seeks to ensure the programme will continue to provide the best possible support for individuals, communities and organisations across the country.
SICAP provides funding to help individuals and communities in society that are experiencing disadvantage, including disadvantaged women, disadvantaged children and families, lone parents, people with disabilities, people who have difficulties in finding employment, members of the Roma community and Travellers. This is the second year of the new SICAP which places a greater focus on more intensive individual support and emphasises flexibility to respond to the needs of target groups at local level. The 2019 proposed allocation of €43 million will ensure SICAP can continue to support over 2,200 organisations and 27,000 individuals.
The 2019 Further Revised Estimate provides €12.6 million in supports for the community and voluntary sector. This maintains the 2018 funding level. Funding will continue to be provided for national organisations in the community and voluntary sector, the senior alert scheme and supports for volunteering. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, will provide further detail in his opening statement.
The Further Revised Estimate includes an allocation of €7.2 million for the development of libraries, up from €3.9 million in 2018. The increase reflects the importance of libraries in communities and their increased role as civic spaces and places where everyone can access technology.
The 2019 allocation for the community enhancement programme is €4 million. This will allow for additional investment to enhance community facilities in disadvantaged areas where small-scale investment can make a significant difference to communities and community groups. The cross-Border PEACE programme has had its allocation increased from €3.7 million in 2018 to €5 million in 2019. It is important that we continue to support this programme, particularly in the context of Brexit.
I have kept my remarks brief to allow a full discussion on the programmes and funding of the Department of Rural and Community Development this year. I emphasise the good progress made by the Department in 2018 across the rural and community development areas. The increased allocation in 2019 presents a major opportunity to support rural Ireland and communities across the country. I am determined to keep up the momentum, to ensure we will get the most out of the allocation provided and to deliver benefits for all communities. I will be happy to answer questions. Before I do so, I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to speak briefly about the areas within his remit.