Stopgap €650,000 for Laois community and business projects welcomed by Laois Partnership

Leader Programme delay covered by transition fund

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

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news@leinsterexpress.ie

Stopgap €650,000 for Laois community and business projects welcomed by Laois Partnership

Catherine Cowap, Acting CEO Laois Partnership, Mary Kennedy RTE and Peter O'Neill, Chairman Laois Partnership

A Laois agency that funds community initiatives and local enterprises is to get nearly €650,000 to cause ba delay in funding the LEADER Programme which is not now expected to recommence until 2023 due what the Government says are delays at EU level.

The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys TD, today (Wednesday, December 16th) announced details of the Transitional LEADER Programme which will come into effect in April 2021. 

A statement said that in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government, the Transitional LEADER Programme will bridge a gap between the wind-up of the current 2014-2020 LEADER Programme and the start of the next EU programme, which is not likely to commence until 2023 due to delays at EU level.

Out of 2021 allocated, €647,690 has been allocated to Laois Partnership Company which is a member of the Irish Local Development Network representing the 35 Local Development Companies (LDCs) that deliver the LEADER programme across the Country.

Laois Partnership, which is chaired by Peter O'Neill, and other groups in the network welcomed the announcement. A statement said ILDN members had expressed concern recently at the lack of clarity in terms of the Government plans for LEADER ahead of the expiry of the current programme at the end of December.

It said the transition arrangement announcement provides welcome clarity for rural areas, Local Development Companies and their staff.

Laois Partnership Company’s Acting CEO Catherine Cowap said it was important to find a solution.

“LEADER is a vitally important programme for locally-led rural development and it is crucial that it is properly resourced.  The provision of funding for new projects in Communities for 2021 is indeed very welcome particularly against the backdrop of Brexit and the COVID-19 recovery.

"Today’s announcement by Minister Humphreys allows LDCs to drive the COVID-19 recovery in their Communities with emphasis on projects in new areas under the themes energy, climate agenda, digital transformation, building capacity of communities. The granting of flexibilities in terms of completion of the current programme and the provision for administration and animation are all to be welcomed.

"Laois Partnership Company have worked very hard to get projects over the line and committed 99% of our allocation of €5.3m with only €6226 remaining in the current programme. Our CEO, Anne Goodwin, who sadly passed away in June this year would have been very proud of this achievement", she said.

Ms Cowap said the measures were encouraging for community-led development in Laois.

"The changes to the grant rate for enterprise and commercial projects from 50% to 75% is encouraging as is the confirmation of a new call for proposals under the LEADER Food initiative which will support funding for artisan, micro and small food producers," she said. 

A statement added that Laois Partnership Company and the ILDN believe that the LEADER programme is of utmost importance to the future development of rural communities and are keen to work with the Department of Rural & Community Development and the Department of Agriculture Food & Marine in the development of the next LEADER Programme 2023-2027 and the fulfilment of the Programme for Government commitments in terms of supporting a LEADER Programme. 

The key features announced by the Minister are:

·         An initial allocation of €20 million will be available under the Transitional Programme to cover both new projects and the administration costs of the Local Action Groups who deliver the programme.

·         Funding for the Transitional Programme will be reviewed in 2021 when there is certainty regarding EU funding for the transitional period to 2023.

·         Project approvals under the Transitional Programme will commence from 1st April 2021. However, Local Action Groups can work on identifying and animating potential projects from 1st January 2021.

·         Funding will also be provided in 2021 to the Local Action Groups for the on-going management and delivery of projects still running under the 2014-2020 LEADER programme.

·         A key focus of the Transitional Programme will be on building capacity within communities which have not received LEADER funding to date. 

·         The programme will also support job creation, foster and encourage entrepreneurship, and support projects which address the climate agenda, digital transformation and encourage rural communities to build on their existing strengths and assets.

·         Under the Transitional Programme, the grant rate for enterprises and commercial projects will be increased from a maximum of 50% to a maximum of 75% to support enterprise development and job creation in rural areas.

·         A new call for proposals under the LEADER Food Initiative, which supports new and existing artisan, micro and small food producers, will be announced in 2021.

·         The deadline for commitments under the current LEADER programme will be extended to the end of March 2021 to facilitate the full allocation of funds available under that programme.

·         Under the current programme, Local Action Groups will be allowed to recommit un-used funding due, for example, to underspends or projects not proceeding.

LEADER is a rural development programme co-funded by the EU which operates a locally-led, bottom-up, approach to meeting the needs of local communities and businesses. The programme supports private enterprises and community groups in rural areas.

The current 2014-2020 LEADER programme for Ireland had an allocation of €250 million, including a contribution of approx. 63% from the EU. Aid is provided to projects under the following themes: