Rural Development: the next steps

thumb-large-6 Promoting social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas underpins the ethos of the Rural Development Programme.

On 26 June 2014, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA announced that she had secured a budget of £623 million for the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme (RDP). This is the largest RDP budget we have had in Northern Ireland, an increase of 24.6 per cent over the previous Programme. Minister O’Neill has earmarked £80 million to assist with the improvement of the local rural economy, job creation and tackling poverty in our rural communities.

The Rural Development Council (RDC) welcomes Minister O’Neill’s commitment and continued support for our rural communities. We are keen to ensure this further investment into Northern Ireland’s rural sector and its enormous potential is fully realised.

However, for this to be achieved we are certain that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not suffice or offer tangible solutions to specific localised issues.

Instead, we believe that for it to be truly effective, the Rural Development Programme must be implemented under the guidance and direction of local people who know first-hand the challenges, desires and needs of their local areas and are best placed to offer viable bespoke solutions for individual rural issues throughout Northern Ireland.

This is known as the LEADER approach, an EU-wide initiative that will give local people a real opportunity to get involved and have their say in the delivery of a Local Development Strategy (LDS) across the province.

This will be realised over the coming weeks as the process of establishing new Local Action Groups (LAGs) gets underway.

In order to ensure a full representation of local opinion, membership of the LAGs will be unlimited and will be open to anyone interested in improving their local area and community. From these members, a Board will be drawn from local elected representatives and social partners. The Boards will be agreed by the wider membership during the LAG formation process.

The Boards are the decision-making bodies of the LAGs and will be responsible for the operations of the partnerships, such as agreeing which projects will be supported and assessing applications. However, every LAG and all of its members will have a significant role in contributing to the development of the Local Development Strategy and any further reviews that may be required.

To ensure full accountability, each Board will report to its wider LAG with at least two meetings per year and through annual reports and newsletters.

LAGs are the means through which local people can shape, define and guide their rural areas into wealth creators, social opportunities and employment providers. For these reasons, it is vital that as many individuals, organisations and stakeholders as possible in each Council area consider becoming members of their Local Action Group (LAG).

For further details on how to get involved with the LAGs initiative contact Jonathan at RDC on 028 8676 6980 or jwalmsley@rdc.org.uk

thumb-large-3 Teresa Canavan is the Chief Executive of the Rural Development Council (RDC). A graduate in Business Studies, Teresa also holds a Masters in Rural Development. She has worked for the RDC since 1997.

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