Local councils tap into "easy" Rural Development Funding

Thursday, 29 August, 2013

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has expressed concern that current Rural Development Programme (RDP) funds are being seen as an easy option by local councils and are being diverted to fund projects that should actually be covered by local council budgets.  The comments come following a UFU Freedom of Information request to all Local Action Groups on how Rural Development Programme funds are being allocated and spent.
UFU President Harry Sinclair said; “It was our concern from the outset that Rural Development

Programme (RDP) funds would be diverted away from their intended purpose and would instead be used to substitute funding that should have come from elsewhere. This appears to be exactly what is happening. It is especially disappointing to see funds being transferred away from some measures within the RDP leaving genuinely viable private sector projects unfunded. I can understand re-allocating funds that are uncommitted but only as a last resort and certainly not while there are genuine applications outstanding.”

North East Region is one example where Rural Development Programme (RDP) funds have been moved around to the benefit of local councils. It transferred a total of £1.1million from the £2.5million Micro-Businesses measure, of which £660,000 went to the RDP Tourism measure and £440,000 to the RDP Basic Services measure, leaving many of the applications for the Mirco-Business measure on a reserve list due to insufficient funds. 

Harry Sinclair continued; “It is a strange coincidence that North East Region transferred a substantial amount of Rural Development Programme (RDP) funding between the Mirco-Business and Tourism measures and then Moyle Council was recently awarded almost £400,000 for their own tourism projects. It does suggest that RDP funding is being diverted to cover the cost of projects that should be funded by existing budgets and also raises concerns over the possibility of private enterprise being stifled. Moyle Council is only one example; I have heard reports of similar activities in other areas. The recent announcement that Cookstown District Council was awarded over £800,000 for a state of the art sports facility is further evidence local councils see RDP funds as an easy target.”

Under the NI Executive’s Rural White Paper, Government departments and local councils have a responsibility for considering rural needs when setting policies or allocating budgets.  

Harry Sinclair concluded; “The NI Executive’s Rural While Paper is about ensuring that existing funding is used to provide services in rural areas.  However, given the information we have obtained from our Freedom of Information requests it appears that the exact opposite is the case.

Local councils in particular seem to see the Rural Development Programme (RDP) as an easy source of funding which they can use for projects that they may have intended to carry-out anyhow and our Agriculture Minister and her Department are allowing them to do so.  This is clearly wrong and I am strongly opposed to RDP funds being diverted away from rural businesses or farmers in order to pay for these types of projects.”