The LEADER programme is very much driven at a local level by the Local Action Groups (LAGs) who administer the programme and approve projects in their respective areas.
The LEADER programme effectively commenced in the second half of 2016, following the signing of Funding Agreements with most of the LAGs. While there were some concerns regarding the administrative requirements at the start of the programme, over the course of the last two years, I have implemented a series of actions to simplify the delivery of LEADER. These actions were developed in consultation with the LAGs themselves.
I have previously highlighted the package of 31 actions I introduced to improve the programme. This package included:
1. A significant reduction in the number of checks that are carried out on project applications;
2. A standardised application form to assist applicants and streamline the approval process; and,
3. Revised and clarified procurement arrangements.
In addition, I have continued to make a number of additional changes, over and above the package of 31 actions, to further simplify the project approvals process.
The impact of these changes is clear to see. 2,170 LEADER projects have been approved for funding of €77.5 million since the programme commenced. This year alone, over 620 projects have already been approved. Almost 100 other Food and Co-operation projects have also been approved at national level, outside of the core budget available to the LAGs. The amount of LEADER funding approved in 2018 was also more than double the level approved in 2017.
While my Department will continue to examine ways to further enhance the programme, I am satisfied that changes already made have substantially improved the process for LEADER applicants.