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McArthur calls for clarity on future of LEADER funding

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur used a debate in parliament this week to highlight the importance of rural development funding under the LEADER programme and call for greater clarity on future investment, in light of Brexit.

In a members debate in Holyrood yesterday evening, Tuesday, Mr McArthur joined cross-party colleagues in highlighting the important work of the LEADER programme. For the past 25 years, the programme has used EU funding to support community-led local development in rural areas.

However, according to Mr McArthur the prospect of the UK leaving the EU has called into question the future of this support. He has therefore called on the UK Government to “be up front with the public” on what will replace this funding.

Following the debate, Mr McArthur said: “The importance of LEADER funding to Orkney cannot be overstated. Over the years, it has helped support a wide range of projects from social enterprises and community services to key initiatives allowing our local tourism, food & drink, fisheries and sustainable energy sectors to respond to new challenges.  In most cases, these projects have created jobs and business opportunities in Orkney.

“These priorities are set at a local level, where decisions are taken on applications and I want to pay tribute both to the LEADER officials at Orkney Islands Council and those who volunteer their time to be part of the Local Action Group in Orkney. The colossal amount of work they do allows collaborations to be formed and projects to be taken forward. However, continued uncertainty over the future of this funding is unhelpful. UK Ministers need to spell out what they expect to happen when the current programme finishes in 2020.

“This also provides an opportunity to make improvements. Making application processes simpler and penalties for errors more proportionate is essential. At present, too often making a bid can prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare, leading to people being put off making bids. Given that it is largely volunteers who are putting together applications, such a move seems sensible and the best way of ensuring that projects are taken forward that can leave a lasting legacy in our communities.

“Whatever the future holds in terms of Brexit, and despite the case for reform, there is no dispute that this type of rural development funding will be needed over the coming 25 years as well”.

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