The new local development governance arrangements contained in Putting People First – Action Programme for Effective local Government reflect a balanced consideration by an expert Steering Group established to consider options for a more integrated and coherent approach to local and community development programming, both at local and national levels. Contrary to the view put forward in the correspondence referred to in the Question, the new arrangements will have not have a detrimental effect on local development services or constrain the delivery of those services. Rather the establishment of Socio-Economic Committees in each local authority area will facilitate a more strategic, joined-up approach to local and community development locally. Socio-Economic Committees will bring key local and community development actors together in partnership, with a focus on outcomes rather than organisational boundaries, thus enabling collaborative leadership at local level and, ultimately, improving services for citizens and communities.
Putting People First envisages an enhanced role for local government in local and community development. There is no intention to divert resources from local development to local authorities. Instead, the aim is to facilitate a joint consideration locally as to how those resources might be deployed through more collaborative and co-ordinated approaches, supported by a reformed and enhanced local government sector.
Similarly, there is no intention to undermine the expertise and staffing of local development companies. As key partners on the Socio-Economic Committees, local development companies will continue to have an important role in the delivery of programmes for which they are contracted by my Department and others. Independent of alignment reforms, however, the level of funding for local development programmes is a key issue for implementing bodies, and this remains to be decided as part of the Government’s estimates process and in the context of EU budgets.
With regard to Leader, the attempt to draw a distinction between community-led arrangements and local authority-led arrangements is unhelpful and misleading. The Leader or community-led local development methodology, under which an element of Rural Development Programme funding is delivered, envisages ‘bottom-up’ implementation of local development programming through a partnership of public and private sector socio-economic interests. Local authorities are considered essential partners to such an approach. All Leader implementation arrangements across EU Member States must and do have a significant local authority involvement. Indeed, in other Member States, local authorities are key enablers and drivers of the Leader approach.
At this stage, management and implementation arrangements for future Leader programmes in Ireland are being considered by an Alignment Working Group, comprising local government and local development representatives. While the Group has to complete its work, any new implementation arrangements for Leader and other community-led local development initiatives will be entirely consistent with EU requirements and will seek to secure optimum outcomes for citizens and communities. Any interpretation to the contrary is a misunderstanding of what we are seeking to achieve.