80% of LEADER fund not spent

Over 80% of the LEADER budget in Westmeath is yet to be spent, with just eighteen months remaining on the current programmes.

That's according to figures released in the Dail earlier this month by Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring.

By the end of June 2019, Westmeath Community Development, which operates the LEADER programme in the county, had spent only 18% or €1.3m out of a total budget of €7.38m for the 2014-2020 period.

Westmeath is in the bottom six spenders in the 29 LEADER programmes in the country.

However, in a statement, Westmeath Community Development pointed out that LEADER is a community-led approach to local development funded through Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. It supports locally identified initiatives that seek to address locally identified needs and challenges.

"It is delivered in each region by a Local Action Group (LAG). In Westmeath this is the Westmeath Local Community Development Committee in partnership with Westmeath County Council as the Financial Partner and Westmeath Community Development as the Implementing Partner. Westmeath Community Development provides direct support to potential applicants seeking funds under the LEADER Programme.

"The current Programme provides for support under the themes of Economic Development, Enterprise Development and Job Creation; Social Inclusion and Rural Environment.

"In Westmeath, a total of 64 projects in the region of €2m have been approved for LEADER funding. These projects are across the various themes outlined and include projects from both communities as well as enterprises from across the county.

The statement goes on to say that the "current spend of 18% includes payments to 23 projects that have been completed. These include community facilities enhancement projects, recreational projects and amenity areas and ICT initiatives."

Westmeath Community Development says when projects have been approved by the LAG, promoters have a year to complete their projects and draw down the funds.

"Going forward we will see the spend increasing as projects are completed and claims are made. With just 18 months remaining in the current Programme and given the level of projects already in the pipeline including a number of large sale community projects, we are confident that the entire budget allocated to Westmeath will be committed to projects that will benefit the people in the county."

The total LEADER allocation in Westmeath for 2014-2020 was €7,384,206.As of June 30, €25,602 was spent on developing the LEADER strategy in Westmeath; €876,475 on admin and supporting the development of projects and €402,401 on qualifying projects.

Separate figures released following a different parliamentary question by Calleary showed that while €402,401 was spent on project payment to date in Westmeath, the value of the relevant approved projects in Westmeath was €1,799,025.

This indicates that further payment claims of almost €1.4m are likely to be submitted if those projects are fully completed.

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