AN expenditure of €11 million over five years on community and enterprise projects in Clare through the EU LEADER Rural Development Programme could generate an overall investment of €16m in the county.
The Clare Local Development Company (CLDC), which administers LEADER, this week confirmed that grant aid totalling €5.5m has been approved from 2009 to 2011 and expects a similar figure will be allocated during 2012 and 2013.
For every €5.5m invested in Clare, CLDC estimates this would lever another €2.5m in private and community funding, giving an overall potential investment of €16m during the lifetime of the current programme.
According to figures obtained by The Clare Champion, €4,522,036 was approved for 135 projects from 2009 to 2011 inclusive. The company has confirmed that €3m of this figure has been paid out. Details of the allocations for the remaining €1m worth of projects is expected to be announced over the coming months.
€1.25m has been invested in enterprise, leading to the creation of at least 70 full-time jobs and the retention of hundreds of other jobs in established businesses.
A further €1.75m has been paid out to community and training initiatives, as well as community projects, such as children’s playgrounds, AstroTurf facilities and community centres.
The breakdown includes €1,325,443 on business creation and development; €1,447,896 on economy and rural population; €442,663 on enhancement of tourism activities; €547,000 on village renewal; €244,990 on animation; €243,960 on rural heritage; €229,584 on training and €40,500 on implementing co-operation projects. This equates to an average of €33,496 per project.
CLDC chief executive, Doirin Graham, insists all the projects funded by the company represent good value for money, having passed a very rigorous examination by their evaluation committees before an application is put forward for approval at board level.
In addition to adhering to strict national guidelines on the type of project that is eligible for funding, grant rates and rules for individual applications, every promoter has to present a proposal, which is scrutinised under specific criteria by an evaluation committee.
Ms Graham said the funding allocations have supported a wide range of initiatives throughout rural Clare, including village renewal and development, tourism activities, diversification into non-agricultural activities, basic services for the economy and rural population, training and information and conservation and upgrading of rural heritage.
The criteria include potential for economic development, enhancement of the environment, social, cultural and heritage.
Ten members of the rural economy and enterprise evaluation committee are drawn from a mix of State bodies, Clare County Council and the voluntary and private sector. People from the community and voluntary sector are included on the community evaluation committee, while the training and animation evaluation committee has people with expertise in this sector.
Projects approved for grant aid also have to follow public procurement policies by securing the lowest tender for the major cost elements. Funding is also allocated to strategic projects that are viewed as having a benefit to the wider community.
Ms Graham explained some projects, such as playgrounds, may not have a direct economic benefit by creating jobs but enhance the quality of life in rural areas and represent good value for money.
She added LEADER is constantly reviewing its programme to ensure funding is providing value for money.
While Councillor Brian Meaney acknowledged grant allocations to date have benefited the rural economy and social inclusion, he warned the evaluation criteria might have to be re-evaluated over the coming years, if the economic situation continues to deteriorate.
Councillor Patricia McCarthy pointed out LEADER play an important role in tackling social disadvantage and marginalisation in rural areas and noted a grant could, in some instances, mean the difference between retaining or losing a job in an isolated community.
A previous Government decision excluded all applications from inside the Ennis Town Council boundary for funding under LEADER. While RAPID covers the Ennis West area, any community project from Ennis town is not eligible for funding unless it creates under 10 jobs, when it can then be assessed by the Enterprise Board.
The European Union provides 55% of the funding, with the national exchequer providing the remaining 45%.
CLDC is subject to reviews from an independent inspector appointed by the Department of the Environment, who reviews files and examines individual projects once they are completed.
Gerard Kennedy, enterprise and rural development manager, CLDC, noted business creation and development initiatives had particularly benefited under the Rural Development Programme. Explaining how allocations are made under the Rural Development Programme, Mr Kennedy commented, “All private projects may be supported to a maximum of 50%, subject to specific ceilings. For example, grant aid of €100,000 will be allocated on the basis that the actual project is costing €200,000 or more, so that the LEADER grant levers at least a similar amount.
“Where community projects are concerned, LEADER funding can be up to 75% of the cost and for some training projects, LEADER may provide 100% funding. We have calculated therefore, taking all of the measures into account, that the €5.5m grant-aid would have levered at least a further €2.5m in private and community funding, giving an overall spend of €8m in the county,” he said.
Clare Local Development Company currently employs 68 people on a wide range of programmes, including LEADER, Local Community Development Programme, Rural Recreation and Local Training Programme and community work schemes. It is also responsible for the employment of a further 232 people on schemes including community employment, the Rural Social Scheme and Tús.