Gildernew defends EU Axis 3 grants hold-ups

image captionMichelle Gildernew has defended her department over claims that a rural development project is being held up by bureaucracy

Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew has defended her department after it was revealed that out of a £100m fund, £2.5m has been spent on grants and £3m on bureaucracy.

The five-year EU programme known as Axis 3, which is meant to deliver cash into the rural economy, began in 2007.

Ms Gildernew said the spending had not been what she would have liked.

However, she added that the money had to be spent in "a way that Europe are content with."


"We have also to ensure that banks are providing matched funding and that there are not other circumstances that prevent people from moving forward.

"There are dozens of people working voluntarily on both local action groups and the joint committees to assess these projects, to talk to the people that are putting them forward and to give out letters of offer."

BBC NI rural affairs correspondent Martin Cassidy said the reason so little money had reached the rural community was because of the bureaucratic structures in place.

He added that, in line with the original plan for the structure of local councils, seven local action groups had been established.

There were also seven council joint committees to oversee the groups as well as district offices.


Our correspondent explained that, because the economy had gone into recession since 2007, many investment plans for new business had been left in doubt and the banks were short of money to lend.

"The programme should now be delivering millions in vital new investment. Applications have to be approved by 2013.

"But the economic slowdown is now contributing to a drop-out rate among applicants of up to 30%."

Austin Kelly of the South-West Action Group said a lack of confidence is now a key issue.

He added: "We are getting a lot of applications. The difficulty is the lack of optimism. There is also a difficulty in attracting the matched funding from financial institutions."

Terry Scullion, who manages the programme at its base in Cookstown, also defended the spending on bureaucracy.

He said: "There is a lot of money has been spent on administration so far.

"However, that is only natural in delivering a programme of this size. You have to have people in place in order to get projects out on the ground, to get projects approved."

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