MLA concern over £10m of rural funding

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Independent MLA Claire Sugden has expressed deep concern about the process to roll out vital European Rural Development money in the Causeway Coast and Glens area.

This fund focuses on rural social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development, and amounts to almost £10million.

In a statement, Ms Sugden said: “This is the second highest amount allocated in Northern Ireland, with Local Actions Groups administering the fund, yet there has been little progress on plans to distribute it. This money has been on the ground since October 2014, and it must be spent by 2017. At a time when rural areas are facing economic challenges, there is no reason why this money should be under-spent.

“I have asked a number of questions to DARD and been disappointed by the lack of urgency in the Minster’s responses. There has been a delay in setting up Local Action Groups, little movement on a contract or service level agreement between Council and LAGs, and no local consultation or development of a spending plan.

“It is concerning that in the time since then, little work has been done to put management structures in place to distribute this money within council areas.

“I urge Councils to work with LAGs to produce a management strategy so that projects are lined up to receive funding when it is received.

“This is vital capital for this rural constituency,” added the MLA.