Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Questions (11)

Dara Calleary

Question:

11. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount spent to date under the present LEADER programme on projects; the amount spent in 2018 on projects by local action groups, LAGs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3029/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Rural)

It is time to sound the emergency bells on LEADER funding. The programme was supposed to end at the end of 2020, which is next year. It is a €250 million programme but the figures for the end of 2018 show that while €38 million was spent, only €13.6 million of that was on natural projects. Will the Minister provide the Department's most up-to-date figures on LEADER expenditure at the end of 2018? To return to a discussion we had earlier, will he outline his plans for allocation versus expenditure?

Project expenditure under the current LEADER programme commenced in 2017, following the signing of funding agreements in the second half of 2016 with the majority of the local action groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme throughout the country. To date, 1,644 projects with a grant value of more than €55.8 million have been approved for LEADER funding by the LAGs. A further 355 projects, requesting funding in excess of €22 million, are at various stages in the approvals process. Project payments have increased significantly in the past year, as approved works are completed and project promoters submit claims for payment.

Approximately €13.6 million was spent on projects between the commencement of the programme and 4 January this year. Of this total, more than €12.5 million of project expenditure was incurred in 2018 compared with just under €700,000 in 2017. These figures clearly demonstrate the scale of the increase in project activity under LEADER last year. The following table provides details of the project expenditure incurred in 2018 in each LAG area.

I am confident that the progress being made by the LAGs in approving projects, along with the administrative improvements introduced by my Department over the past year, will result in a continued increase in project approvals and payments under the LEADER programme during 2019.

LEADER 2014-2020 Project Expenditure in 2018 by LAG

LAG Area

Total Project Expenditure in 2018

Carlow

€716,514

Cavan

€398,960

Clare

€460,913

Cork North

€463,909

Cork South

€208,113

Cork West

€146,440

Donegal

€1,697,201

Dublin Rural

€376,806

Galway East

€21,367

Galway West

€102,284

Kerry

€724,370

Kildare

€57,827

Kilkenny

€489,968

Laois

€386,440

Leitrim

€368,803

Limerick

€480,115

Longford

€51,398

Louth

€199,788

Mayo

€439,470

Meath

€26,531

Monaghan

€331,873

Offaly

€887,842

Roscommon

€198,518

Sligo

€506,202

Tipperary

€450,879

Waterford

€1,484,035

Westmeath

€254,216

Wexford

€470,699

Wicklow

€103,759

Total

€12,505,239

While I welcome the increase in expenditure on projects during 2018, we have had these assurances before. The Minister said 1,644 projects are worth €55.8 million. When is that money anticipated to be drawn down? Will it be during 2019 or 2020? With only two years remaining, does he envisage an extension to the LEADER programme? What is the final date on which he expects LAGs to be able to draw down money in the context of the programme? Is he concerned that the delays in spending money rather than approving it will affect our chances of a new LEADER programme post 2020?

Negotiations for the new LEADER programme are already taking place. I hope that, unlike every other programme, there is no gap in the new programme, and at Government level I will push to ensure there is no gap but rather a continuation of the scheme.

On the drawdown of funding, as the Deputy will know, when approvals are made, if the LAGs present with receipts and evidence of work having been done, they are paid and there is no delay in that regard. As I said in my reply, there has been a major improvement, given that two years ago there was only €700,000 in expenditure whereas last year there was €12.5 million, and I expect that to be further ramped up this year. It is expected that 80% of the project budget will be approved by the local action groups by the end of 2019, and further funding can be allocated to projects up to the end of 2020. Project promoters have a further three years to complete the proposed works and submit claims for payments.

The team is doing its best but it can deal only with what is coming into it. The Minister again referred to approvals, which are super, but the funding needs to be drawn down. What changes will he make? I welcome his plans to have a seamless transition to the new LEADER programme, which is essential, but what changes will he make to a new programme to ensure we do not have difficulty in drawing down approved funds?

We have made 32 changes to the existing scheme and we have made it easier to make applications and improved supports for groups that apply for the LEADER programme. The scheme works better because of the changes we made, as can be seen in the number of allocations made as well as those coming down the line. I am happy that the scheme works better than it was. As Minister, I have made all the possible changes that were sought.

Approvals have been made and now it is a matter for promoters and the people who received the grant aid to do the work and draw down the funding. It is similar to what the Deputy rightly said earlier in that I can deal only with the issues that are in my remit. I addressed the issue of the logjam that existed and I made it easier for the LEADER programme to be implemented. The funding has been allocated and the groups must spend the money. To be fair to the Department and everybody involved, we pay groups as the receipts are received. As the Deputy will know, I must be careful. Many programmes have had many difficulties and every day I continue to receive queries about grant aid-----

We must move on because other Deputies are waiting to ask questions.