Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Ceisteanna (35)

Dara Calleary


35. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the progress made to date with the roll-out of the LEADER programme 2014 to 2020; the expenditure incurred to date on the programme by administrative, animation and project costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52193/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Rural)

The LEADER programme continues to be behind budget. The Minister referred to it in the reply to my previous question. He made some changes when he took office. I ask for an update on expenditure on the programme.

LEADER is a multi-annual programme with a total budget of €250 million over the period to 2020.

Total expenditure on the LEADER programme since it commenced, which was effectively in 2016 when the majority of funding agreements were signed, amounts to €34 million. This comprises: €1.47 million in initial costs incurred by the LEADER local action groups to develop local development strategies; €21.6 million in administration costs of the local action groups and the cost of their engagement with communities to generate projects, which is also referred to as animation costs; and €11 million on project expenditure.

The level of project activity under the LEADER programme has increased significantly this year. A total of 1,525 projects have now been approved for funding of more than €50 million, compared with 592 projects approved at the end of 2017. A further 370 applications, requesting an additional €23.4 million, are at various stages in the approval process.

Project payments have also increased significantly in recent months as approved works are completed and claims are submitted. More than €10 million of project expenditure has been incurred in 2018, compared with just under €700,000 in 2017.

I expect the progress being made on the LEADER programme will continue as further projects are approved and payment claims are made. The progress has been assisted by improvements made by my Department in the past year to the applications and approvals process in consultation with the local action groups.

I thank the Minister for his reply. A total of €11 million has been spent out of €250 million and we are now in year five of a programme that runs from 2014 to 2020. Only €11 million has actually been spent on projects to date. Even if we were to add the €23.4 million to that total it only brings the spend up to approximately €35 million. There is still a problem here. The Minister has referred to the ramping up of expenditure during 2018. He has also been moving funds out of LEADER and into other programmes, which does not suggest full confidence on his part that we will spend the €250 million by the end of 2020 or even 2021. How much of the €250 million will be invested in projects at the end of this? Is the Minister proposing any other changes to ensure that the cash goes into projects and that spending increases significantly during 2019?

As the Deputy knows, spending under the LEADER programme takes a while to ramp up. To date, €35.5 million of the programme budget has been spent since it commenced. I am expecting that by the end of this year, a total of €24.5 million of that funding will be spent. Every LEADER programme takes a while to ramp up because the local action groups, LAGs, or LEADER companies have to identify projects in the first instance.

Another issue to bear in mind is the fact that with previous LEADER programmes, there were no other competing schemes. Now we have numerous other schemes and funds, including the rural regeneration and development fund, the outdoor recreation infrastructure fund, the town and village renewal scheme and so on. That said, I am pleased that this year a total of 1,525 projects have been approved to the value of €50.5 million and a further 370 projects with a value of over €23 million are going through the approvals process. When projects are approved, they must be developed further and then funding is drawn down. Approval has been granted for many projects and much work is under way. The programme is beginning to ramp up significantly and I am pleased with that.

While there has been some progress in 2018, the Department has still only spent 50% of what was allocated for LEADER this year. That suggests that the Department is not yet up to speed in terms of getting the budgeted amounts out. Is the Department looking at any of the structures involved? Are there LEADER companies or local authorities that are not performing at the level required? Has the Department identified any laggards that might be delaying allocations to projects or delaying the draw down of funds for any particular reason and if that is the case, does the Minister intend to act on that?

I am monitoring this closely. To be fair, my Department is not holding back progress. When the Department gets receipts, it pays out the funds as quickly as possible. In response to the Deputy's specific questions, some of the LEADER companies around the country have done very well. In Mayo, for example, 88 projects have been approved with a total value of €3.689 million and to date, €407,887 has been drawn down. In Kilkenny, 55 projects with a value of €1.498 million have been approved, while the figure for approved projects in Laois is €941,000, with a draw down to date of €317,000. The Deputy is correct in saying that some counties have been slow to get off the ground but they are beginning to make progress now. Galway has not been doing too well so far but I am sure it will improve. In Galway east, projects worth €1.254 million have been approved but to date no funding has been drawn down. In Galway west, a total of 22 projects worth €381,000 have been approved but only €70,000 has been drawn down.

To be fair, my Department is not holding things up. I have already made a number of changes to LEADER. My Department meets the LAGs on a regular basis. I met LEADER companies earlier this year and told them that I will make any changes that are required to improve the programme.