Farm Ireland
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Saturday 20 October 2018

State bureaucracy is choking projects claim Leader officials

Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring Picture: Steve Humphreys
Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring Picture: Steve Humphreys
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

Rural development projects are being choked by bureaucracy, Leader company officers have claimed.

And they have also taken issue with Minister for Community and Rural Development Michael Ring for what they claim was his misrepresentation of Leader administration and project expenditure figures outlined in the Dáil last week.

The figures show that €19m has been spent to date by the country's Leader Local Action Groups on administration compared to €6m on project expenditure under the 2014-2020 programme.

Commenting on the figures, Minister Ring said the gap between administrative spending and project expenditure was "amazing."

"If Leader programmes are not drawing down funding, I can see if the money should be redirected to other companies that are spending the money," he said.

Leader company officials, however, claim the figures don't represent the progress being made on projects as money invested in projects is not counted as expenditure until projects are completed.

Maura Walshe, CEO of IRD Duhallow, a Leader company in North Cork, described the Minister's response as misinformed: "It's either that or his civil servants should explain to him in clearer terms how the Leader programme works.

"He should know that the administration costs in every Leader company are capped at 25pc, we cannot go above that," she said.

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Leader companies claim their efforts to deliver their programmes are being smothered under layers of bureaucracy.

"Mr Ring might find it amazing to know that if the light bulb goes in my office, I just don't go to petty cash for the price of a new one. I have to ring the local shop and get a quotation for the light bulb, then I have to draw up an A4 sized procurement memorandum to which I attach the receipt for the light bulb," claimed Ms Walshe.

"Every project now has to go through a 17-step process taking project applications through a plethora of certifying bodies that can often send it back two or three times. It takes 18 months to get a project approved and at least another year, depending on the project, before the money is drawn down."

Payouts

Leaders officials say that in the normal run of the Leader cycle, the last two years of the five-year programme are the years when the big payouts happen.

"For the first two years of these programmes, our staff work with projects morning, noon and night to prepare the ground for funding. This involves guiding them through the maze of bureaucracy, that is not of our making," said Ms Walshe. The Leader spending figures were released last week in response to a Parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue.

"I wanted to ascertain if extra funding for Leader, promised in the Programme for Government, was going to be delivered," he told the Farming Independent.

"The Minister did not answer my question. Instead he railed at the Leader companies for their slowness in delivering. He should look in the mirror when looking for someone to blame for this," claimed Deputy McConalogue.

The 2014-2020 Leader programme has a total budget of €250m and is co-funded by the EU and Local Action Groups (LAGs). Local authorities have also had an input since 2014 when the then Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan gave them a role in the programme.

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