I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl is from the same constituency as me, where we have had a chequered history with Leader partnerships. Years back, there were three companies in Kildare, and when three companies are putting out the same pot, there are three sets of administration. Most of the money ended up going on administration. They amalgamated but the sad part about this amalgamation was that the three CEOs of the three individual companies all became part and parcel of the new amalgamation and we had another issue with regard to administration costs. I still have an issue with administration costs because up to 20% of the €250 million being allocated can be spent on administration costs. If we are really speaking about where funding should be going in communities, we should examine this area because it means €50 million is automatically taken out of the initial €250 million to be spent on administrative costs and not allocated to communities. I have reservations about this; the fund has been established to assist communities but one fifth of it will be spent on administration costs, which somewhat defeats the purpose.
I very much welcome the fact that it is being brought under the auspices of the local authorities. This gives an opportunity for the public to have better scrutiny. Who has ever read in the newspapers about any Leader company meetings or reports? Journalists generally report on local authority activities so there is a better opportunity for oversight. I welcome the fact that the oversight body which will look after it has a wide variety of groups involved, not only community groups, but also educational groups, local authority management and elected members.
There is a huge delay between a project being initiated and getting a grant and this puts off groups proposing projects. I welcome the fact they will all be under the one body, so assistance can be given to community groups not only with applying for funding, but also with planning permission and any environmental issues which involves dealing with the local authority. This is a positive. I would welcome a unified system throughout country whereby the processes are similar for community groups applying for projects in various areas. We are still waiting for some projects, which applied and were passed by boards in May or June 2013, to be approved by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. This is unacceptable. If a project is worthy of funding, then whatever assistance can be given by whoever gets the tender should be speeded up as quickly as possible.
There is also a need for checks and balances. We see ridiculous projects being allocated huge amounts of money which have no bearing on why the overall scheme was established. I have seen it in County Kildare. There does not seem to be any logic and we need more checks and balances. I hope the overarching body in the local authorities will have a major say in this.
I welcome this measure because amalgamation within local authorities will assist community groups. Those applying for tenders will more than likely have experience and I agree such experience should be taken on board. It is important the projects are processed as quickly as possible.