My Department operates a number of schemes that can provide small-scale financial supports and grants to community groups and organisations.
These include the Community Enhancement Programme and the CLÁR Programme. The application processes for these programmes are reviewed before each call for applications is issued to ensure they are user friendly and fit for purpose.
Following a review of the criteria for the CLÁR Programme, my Department initiated a process for the 2019 programme whereby local authorities further assist communities by verifying information for applicants and ensuring that all required permissions, match-funding, etc., are in place so applications fulfil all the scheme requirements.
The Community Enhancement Programme is the result of a review of the Communities Facilities Scheme and RAPID programme and provides a more flexible, streamlined and targeted approach to providing small scale infrastructure funding of a regenerative nature to enhance facilities in disadvantaged communities.
My Department also offers information sessions and workshops for communities and groups on its funding programmes and schemes. This is done to help applicants understand the schemes, criteria which apply and with completing the application process.
I am acutely aware of the issues faced by some communities who wish to apply for funding, but are hampered in completing application forms in a satisfactory manner due to capacity issues.
To assist communities a series of regional ‘Rural Opportunity' information sessions were hosted by my Department recently to raise awareness of the wide variety of funding supports available to rural communities from across Government Departments. Staff from my Department and a number of other Departments and agencies were also on hand at the events to provide further information to attendees on the range of supports available.
My Department also recently ran a series of 'Helping Hands' workshops designed to make groups more aware of grant programmes, and to provide guidance on how to make an application. The events were aimed at community groups that have had no success, or limited success, previously and aim to provide hints and tips on how to make a better application and how to identify local supports that community groups can draw upon.
The LEADER programme, which comes under the remit of my Department, is delivered through Local Action Groups (LAGs) in each of the 28 sub-regional areas. I am committed to making the application process for LEADER as efficient as possible for all applicants.
My Department engages regularly with the Local Action Groups (LAGs) that deliver LEADER to identify potential areas for programme improvement. Following a forum held with the LAGs in May 2017, I have implemented a series of 31 improvements to streamline the LEADER programme. I will continue to closely monitor the implementation of the LEADER Programme to ensure the process is as streamlined as possible while being mindful of the EU Regulations governing the Programme.
I believe these efforts will see any administrative barriers that may exist reduced in order that our funding has the broadest possible reach and that all eligible groups have the opportunity to access available supports.
In addition, my Department is committed to keeping under review the administration of all our funding programmes and schemes to ensure they remain fit for purpose, targeted, can be accessed by those who need the supports most and are delivering benefits for communities across the country. I welcome feedback on our programmes and schemes from communities so we can continue to do this.