Thursday, 5 December 2013

Questions (4)

Éamon Ó Cuív


4. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total allocation for projects under the Leader programme 2007-2013; the latest date for companies to submit payment claims to his Department under the programme; the spend to date in actual amount and as a percentage of the allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52067/13]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Environment)

My question relates to the spend under the Leader programme. What spend has been achieved to date? Now that we are entering the home straight, how we can to ensure a full spend under the programme?

During 2011, the European Commission approved a change in the maximum co-funding rate from 55% to 85% in respect of Leader. This has had the effect of reducing overall funding available under the programme. The overall value of the Leader elements of the Rural Development Programme is currently €370 million. Of that up to 20% can be spent on administration, leaving a minimum of €296 million available for projects and animation activities. Several local development companies have indicated that they will spend less than the 20% allowed under the regulations for administration and this money can be diverted into funding for projects.

To date €285.5 million has been committed with a further 30 projects to the value of €9.1 million still under assessment. My Department is in ongoing contact with the relevant development companies to resolve outstanding issues as quickly as possible. These issues can be procurement or planning or whatever. I expect that this process will be finalised in the coming weeks. In addition, projects to the value of €1.8 million are currently under appeal.

Under EU regulations expenditure can continue under the programme up to the end of 2015. However, I anticipate that most local development companies will complete their expenditure before the end of 2014, with a small number completing them in early 2015.

The total project spend under axes 3 and 4 of the programme is currently €175 million, which represents 59% of the estimated project funding available. In addition, I anticipate that up to a further €8 million will be spent on projects before the end of 2013. The LDCs also administer a food measure under axis 1 of the programme. To date almost €2.2 million has been committed under this measure with expenditure of €318,172.

The Minister said 59% of the money has been spent. Will he clarify whether that includes project money and administrative money? Will the Minister provide the percentage of project money? Allowing that there is €300 million for project money, what percentage of the project money has been spent? I understand that a high percentage of the administrative money has been spent as we come to the end of the programme.

When looking at the Exchequer returns I noticed that there was an under spend of €172 million in gross capital expenditure by the Department. How much of the under-spend relates to the Leader programme? With an €8 million spend between now and the end of the year, how much does the Minister anticipate will relate to Leader by the end of the year? Will the Minister be able to carry forward all of the under-spend to 2014?

As Deputy Ó Cuív knows better than anyone, it is a multi-annual funding programme, which has regularly underspent the annual allocations since it began in 2009. The Department has been in a position to carry over significant amounts of unspent money into the following year and the same will happen on this occasion. Leader spending has increased each year since 2009 and I anticipate that in the order of €50 million will become available to carry forward in 2014 to fund Leader projects.

Final decisions will be made in a wider context of the Department's overall capital allocation as published in the Revised Estimates Volume. I assure Deputy Ó Cuív that in respect of the figures I referred to there is a draw down in the order of 59%. I was keen to ensure that 100% commitments would be made in the programme. There was a major problem with that throughout 2013 whereby people were inclined to be slow about making those commitments. The measures and action we took ensured that we focused their attention on getting projects in and getting them over the line in respect of any difficulties they might have with regard to planning and procurement. There are still some issues to be resolved but I have adopted a flexible approach to ensure that we have the maximum commitment.

I understand that Europe is more flexible than it has been in the past about deadlines and that is useful.

We are nicer to them than the Deputy was.

I got on very well with them. It would allow the Minister to ensure there is a full spend, which is important. The Minister said he would be carrying forward €50 million into next year. The basic allocation was €96 million for Leader in the Estimate. There was a huge underspend in his Department, which I cannot believe. Imagine all the economic activity it could have achieved. Some €172 million of economic activity is being put aside, but that is a question for another day.

Will the Minister confirm that there will be a big drive to try to get as much money as possible out before the end of the year and that every application ready to be funded will be funded by the end of the year? In other words, where the work is done and the application comes in for the payout, those payouts should be expedited and, as much as possible, paid out before the end of the year. Does that mean the Minister will have achieved an expenditure of €81 million under Leader by the end of the year, if he is only carrying forward €50 million? I take it all of this underspend relates to water and sewerage schemes and other things.

Deputy Ó Cuív can take it I am doing everything I possibly can to move projects in the Leader programme. There are just 30 outstanding projects to be assessed between now and the end of the year.

I am talking about the spend.

I have no difficulty paying out. I do not delay anybody in getting money. We have sufficient moneys for the projects in the system currently. There are 30 outstanding projects, some of which are in the Deputy's consistency, that are waiting for assessment. If I get any project approval and submission for over €150,000, I do not delay anybody in regard to-----

If somebody actually completes the project and applies for the cheque, will the money be transferred before the end of the year?

If everything is in order, there will be no difficulty. There will be no time lag in regard to paying out any moneys available. The underspend does not apply to the Leader programme.