Other Questions. - URBAN Operational Programme.

John Browne

Ceist:

15 Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the situation in relation to the allocation of funding under the URBAN Operational Programme. [15190/98]

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

16 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the situation in relation to the allocation of funding under the URBAN Operational Programme. [15186/98]

Liam Burke

Ceist:

21 Mr. L. Burke asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the situation in relation to the allocation of funding under the URBAN Operational Programme. [15187/98]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

22 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if the mid-term review of the URBAN Operational Programme has been completed; if the report will be published; the steps, if any, he is taking to expedite the draw-down of funds approved by the previous Government for areas under the URBAN programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15141/98]

Paul Bradford

Ceist:

24 Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the situation in relation to the allocation of funding under the URBAN Operational Programme. [15189/98]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

32 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if the mid-term review of the URBAN Operational Programme has been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15034/98]

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

40 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the progress, if any, made on the URBAN II project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15151/98]

Michael Creed

Ceist:

53 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the situation in relation to the allocation of funding under the URBAN Operational Programme. [15188/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 16, 21, 22, 24, 32, 40 and 53 together.

Following a tender process, a mid-term evaluation of the URBAN Operational Programme was commissioned by the programme's monitoring committee on 30 April 1998. A draft evaluation has been recently submitted to my Department, as lead Department for the programme. This draft is being examined to ensure that it meets the terms of reference following which it will be considered by the monitoring committee for the programme which will report, with recommendations if appropriate, to the CSF Monitoring Committee. This will complete the mid-term review process. Once the programme's monitoring committee has completed its consideration of the evaluation, which is likely to be at its autumn meeting, the evaluation will be available through the CSF evaluation unit in the Department of Finance.

In so far as funding is concerned, approximately £10 million is being made available to the north Dublin URBAN area, which includes Ballymun, Darndale and Finglas, and £5 million each to the south Dublin URBAN area, which includes Tallaght and Clondalkin, and the north side of Cork city URBAN area. To date north Dublin has drawn down £2.2 million and south Dublin and north Cork city have drawn down £1.4 million each. Funding is drawn down on the basis of developed projects in line with strategies formulated under action plans. Once projects comply with the relevant criteria and Department of Finance approval has been obtained, there will be no delay in my Department releasing funds.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Will there be any provision under this programme for urban areas in rural Ireland? The Minister of State referred to provisions for Dublin and Cork. If disadvantaged areas exist in Dublin, they can also exist in smaller towns.

This programme relates to urban areas, essentially those I outlined which have particular difficulties. It was established in 1996 on the basis of particular criteria and will run to 1999, but what will be in place thereafter is another issue. Other programmes cover rural areas. I am involved in the partnership area and there are a number of partnerships spread across the country, other specialist organisations and national groups, as well as the Leader group, for which my ministerial colleague, Deputy Davern is responsible. There are other groups which seek to tackle deprivation and other neglected rural areas, but this programme applies only to the areas to which I referred. There have not been any changes to expand the areas covered by it. It is another matter as to whether a case could be made for expanding it post-1999.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): When I mentioned rural urban areas I was referring to towns around the country. Is it the case that only Dublin and Cork are covered by the scheme?

This programme was introduced by the former Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell. Is the current Minister of State, Deputy Flood, concerned that two years after the establishment of the programme little money has been drawn down? Is he further concerned that the cost of projects proposed in different areas might now have escalated due to increased building costs? Many of the objectives and plans are being smothered by bureaucracy and red tape. The figures presented by the Minister of State show——

A question, please.

——that there is a smothering of the ambitions of organisations in deprived areas. A sum of £1.4 million has been taken up——

Deputy Allen is denying his colleagues a chance to ask a question.

I am asking the Minister of State——

The Deputy is making a statement. I have asked him a number of times to make his questions brief.

When my questions were brief and to the point I received extremely long answers.

The Deputy is making a statement and I want to let his colleague, Deputy Perry, ask a question.

In view of the low amounts of money allocated, will the Minister of State do everything possible to ensure that credible projects in deprived areas are not smothered by bureaucracy and red tape as appears to be the case to date?

My Department, as the lead Department for this programme, is keen to ensure that resources are given to the community for which they are allocated. That is an important issue. It is a three year programme and nothing in the Department delays the drawing down of funds by the respective steering groups.

By the end of 1997, 55 per cent of the available funding was committed to specific projects. There is now a definite acceleration in drawing down further funds. Up to 11 July 1997, a total of £400,000 was drawn down by the three areas. The programme was transferred to my Department on the change of Government and from 11 July 1997 to the end of the year, £1,700,000 was drawn down. Up to June 1998, a further £2,900,000 was drawn down.

I accept that steering groups must be put in place and develop their plans. Some of the spending is allocated to projects, the development of which can involve time consuming processes such as planning permission, establishing management structures and dealing with other issues which are intrinsic to setting up a good, properly managed project. These considerations should not be seen as delaying measures but as the establishment of proper and appropriate structures to allow the appropriate moneys to be drawn down and to facilitate accountability. Capital works projects obviously take time but the draw down of funding is accelerating and there is no delay in assisting this process in the Department.

These funds are directed to the most disadvantaged areas and I am concerned that most of the money earmarked for this project in April 1996 has not been drawn down even though the needs and disadvantage still exist. Has the level of consultation required seriously affected the implementation of some of these programmes? I accept that the Minister of State has responsibility to the Exchequer for the correct allocation of the funding but the consultation process is over-bureaucratic in an area in which there is serious social disadvantage.

It is most important that communities and other organisations involved in the work of the steering group are consulted. Previous experience shows that local communities can take the view that certain projects and services were imposed on them with little consultation. The effort to reverse that approach under the URBAN scheme is welcome. Local communities must be consulted. However, I accept the thrust of the comments by Deputies Ferris and Allen. It is important that projects or facilities promoted under the URBAN programme should be drafted as quickly as possible.

An external mid-term review is being carried out and my office received a draft report on 4 June. If lessons are to be learned from the review, which will be finalised in the autumn when it will be sent to the appropriate committee, about mechanisms to expedite the draw down of funds by the steering group, the Department will intervene and arrange for them to be put in place.

I do not seek to apportion political blame in this matter but will the Minister of State concede that the allocation of just £1.4 million to the northside of Cork City and of £1.4 million to an area of Dublin out of a total allocation of £5.4 million to each area is unacceptable and unsatisfactory? Bureaucracy and constraints must be removed to enable local groups to proceed as quickly as possible and to avoid their being affected by the escalating costs that are a reality of life. Will the Minister of State give an assurance that these barriers to progress in deprived areas will be removed?

Before the Minister of State replies, I will allow a brief supplementary question from Deputy Perry.

There are also deprived areas in rural parts of the country. Will the Minister of State consider allocating some of the funds to those areas given that such a small amount has been drawn down at this stage? The trend of population growth for the year 2006 shows that we must plan ahead, particularly for larger rural centres. A rural renewal tax incentive scheme has been introduced but some of the URBAN fund might encourage people to invest in rural areas since they will be the more heavily populated areas in the not too distant future.

There is much merit in the approach advocated by Deputy Perry. However, I do not have the power to extend the boundaries of the URBAN scheme. Perhaps there will be a different situation after 1999 but, at present, I cannot interfere with the current parameters.

Deputy Allen referred to barriers. If there are such barriers I will try to remove them in so far as I have the power to so do. However, the locally based steering groups have an important role in this regard. They have the right to bring forward projects under the criteria laid down at the outset. The criteria are clear and must be adhered to.

The steering group can draw down the money on the basis of formulated action plans consistent with the objectives of the programme and develop projects which are in line with strategies outlined in the action plans. The groups must arrange for the projects to become incorporated as limited companies and sign operation agreements with the lead Department. The operation agreements have been signed so there is no delay in that case. It is up to the local steering committees and they have not given me any indication that they have a problem in this area.

Although it might appear that a small amount has been drawn down by these two areas, neither area will lose out. All the funding committed to them will be available. The figures for 1998 show a considerable acceleration in the draw-down of funds and I expect that to continue. When the process is reviewed at the end of the year significant progress will probably have been made in that regard.

I accept the points made by the Deputies. If any difficulties become apparent, I will ensure they are removed.