Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (7)

Éamon Ó Cuív


7. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount provided in the 2019 Estimates for the rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF; the amount transferred to other subheads in the Vote; the amount remaining in the Vote for the fund; the amount spent to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43662/19]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I was looking at some figures and it seems that after 9.5 months of this year, the Department has only spent approximately half its capital budget. I am curious as to whether the Minister will manage to spend the €52 million allocated to the RRDF or will he find some other way to spend the money? Both the Minister and I hate giving money back to the Exchequer.

The RRDF seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects that have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over ten years to the fund and €315 million is allocated to the fund for the period 2019-2022, with €52 million allocated to the fund for 2019. Following the conclusion of the first call under the fund in February 2019, a total of 84 successful projects had been announced with funding of €86 million provided from the fund to support projects worth a total of €117 million.

Significant progress is being made on the implementation of these projects. A number of the projects have reached their first progress milestone and had funding released. To date, a total of €16 million has been drawn down from the fund by 29 separate projects and I expect payments from the fund will continue to accelerate over the coming weeks and months. Notwithstanding this progress, due to the requirement for due diligence and the time it takes for projects of the size supported by the fund to carry out procurement and get fully up and running, it is clear that savings will likely materialise in this subhead this year.

In that regard, I am pleased that demand under the LEADER programme has ramped up significantly this year and although I initially allocated €30 million to the programme, expenditure stands at approximately €33.3 million. Given this strong performance, I have, therefore, allocated an additional €10 million to the programme to cater for this increase in 2019. This is being reallocated from the savings to be realised under the RRDF subhead this year. I will continue to monitor spend and any savings will be used to benefit other demands under the rural and community programmes of the Department.

The improved activity in the LEADER programme is a welcome development, with more than 2,400 projects now being funded across Ireland. In this regard, I announced this week an additional allocation of €5 million to the ten local action groups most advanced in delivering the programme. These projects, along with the major strategic projects being progressed through the RRDF, are delivering significant economic and social development in rural areas throughout the country. I expect to make an announcement on future rural regeneration scheme projects shortly and am pleased with the great interest in this fund.

I applaud the Minister for transferring the money to the LEADER programme and I am glad it is being spent well, even if it is late in the day for it to start. That still leaves €42 million in the fund, with €16 million spent. In approximately six or seven weeks, the Department must spend €26 million, so is the Minister still confident the funding will be drawn down by the end of the year? Are there other areas in which he could spend the money? For example, has he considered putting more money in the LIS, although I understand the spending is slow there? We do not know whether the spending is slow because the work has not been done or because the Department has not received the bills. It is a perennial problem faced by the Department.

Will the Minister consider, for example, asking local authorities to do some class 3 county roads, which the Minister knows are in poor condition? Quick decisions need to be made. For example, will there be another €10 million in hand to allow a €16 million spend in less than two months, as compared to the €16 million spent in 9.5 months? Should the Minister now make the quick decision to move the money into other funds and have it spent? It is no good trying to do this at the beginning of December.

I am quite confident that all my funding programmes are on profile. I know I will not spend all the money for the rural regeneration scheme but I am confident a substantial amount of that money will be spent between now and the end of year. Many projects, including some in my county and the Deputy's county, are completed and the money will be drawn down between now and the end of the year. I am looking at ways and means of re-profiling the money but I have a big problem with LEADER and the way it is ramping up. There is no doubt that money is being drawn down and I will certainly have to find more money for the programme between now and the end of the year, which is good.

I can give the Deputy a commitment. I know he has been saying this for the past two years. Last year, I spent 100% of my capital funding, as I did the year before. Last year, I spent 99.5% of my current spending allocation and we made some savings in staffing and information technology. It was only a small amount. I spent almost 100% of the money. I can commit to the Deputy that same will happen this year. I hope I have enough money.

I apologise but I am conscious of the time.

I presume the Minister will get the same amount for the RRDF next year.

The amount has been increased.

When will the next tranche of applications be approved? He has had them for some time. The quicker stuff gets out before the end of this year, the quicker people will be in getting started and the more likely it will be that money will not have to be shifted around towards the end of next year. When will the Minister announce the next tranche of projects under the RRDF? I refer to approvals rather than calls to participate in the scheme. When will the next round of calls for projects to apply for funding?

I am very pleased with my officials and we have done well. I am very proud of the Department as we will have a second call for the RRDF. None of the other schemes has had a second call. The Deputy asked a question and in the next two to three weeks I intend to have an announcement regarding the fund. There are some issues on which the Deputy and I disagree but there also some on which we agree.

I need to keep the schemes moving. As the Deputy knows, officials do not like us spending money in advance as at some stage, it will catch up with us, like it did with LEADER. The RRDF is fantastic but it takes time. We need a year or two of allocations so it can level out. I am very proud of the way the Department has worked. There was a scheme last September that was closed in August and in the next two to three weeks, I will announce the successful applications. It will be open again early in the new year for a second round. There will be €1 billion over ten years and the money is there. Next year there will be an increase in the budget for the RRDF. As the years go on, there will be a bigger drawdown.