Integration Of Leader Companies Would Destroy Rural Development – Prendergast

Labour MEP for Munster, Phil Prendergast today called for Local Action Groups administering the Rural Development (LEADER) Programme 2007-2013 to remain independent of local authorities.

“A number of proposals have been circulated in relation to a realignment of the Local Action Groups (LAGs), some of which I would agree with and others I would strongly disagree with.

“While no concrete proposals have been announced, I would have to say that any proposal to integrate LAGs within the local authority structure would be disastrous from both an effectiveness point of view and from a legal perspective.

“Such a move would make a mockery of the “bottom up” approach envisaged by the LEADER Programme. This approach is based on the idea that independent groups are most effective at identifying, and responding to, needs on the ground. It would be difficult to see how a bureaucratic structure such as a local authority would be able to do this in much the same way, or at all.

“There is also the argument that any partial integration, such as, for example, the integration of enterprise functions into the local authorities, would disrupt the integrated approach envisaged by the Rural Development Programme. The approach envisages rural development being tackled in a cohesive way with all aspects of development – economic, social and environmental – being undertaken in a complimentary fashion.

“I have visited many of these programs in my own constituency and most are facing chronic funding problems which have them on a life-support machine. Integration or partial integration would be equivalent to turning off that machine.

“A question also arises as to how integration would work from a legal perspective, as there is a requirement that LAGs be composed of 50% civil society representatives to qualify for European funding. This could not be achieved under the current local authority structure. Therefore, it would seem that some sort of shadow LAG would have to be established for the purpose of obtaining funding.

“Legally this seems like a convoluted approach which would involve the creation of various new legal structures. If what we are looking for is alignment why not focus on getting the existing structures to work better together rather than the creation of more bureaucracy?

“The current LEADER system in Ireland has been held up by the European Court of Auditors as an example of best practice across the European Union. The Court specifically identified the independence of the Irish LAGs as being crucial to the success of the programme here. Integration or even partial integration runs the very real risk of destroying twenty years of hard work by the LAGs and destroying a perfectly well-functioning system and it is for this reason that I would caution against it.”

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