Fisheries Local Action Group

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP 3:15 pm, 17th November 2020

T4. Miss McIlveen asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what scope he and his officials will have to review the spending limits of the Fisheries Local Action Group, once the grant scheme has been opened. (AQT 694/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Once outside the European Union, we will have considerable scope. We are in discussions on state aid to maximise the money that we can have for agriculture and fisheries. State aid for fisheries is still being extensively debated. I hope that we will get an outcome that ensures that we can provide good support to fisheries and enable those local groups to provide support to the industry.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. I understand that the South East Area Fisheries Local Action Group (SEAFLAG) has handed back £483,418 of a £2 million pot. A Portavogie scheme worth a quarter of a million pounds is ready to go. Some £200,000 is needed from the fund. However, they have been told that there is a cap of £120,000. The limited grant means that the project will fall. I appreciate the Minister's response, but I would further appreciate his looking at that policy in its current form.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We recognise that, at present, there is an underspend of around £1·5 million under the community-led local development (CLLD) measure. Even if all 24 applications under assessment are supported, a maximum of £1·1 million European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) funding would be required for those 24 projects. That is where the £400,000 comes from. It is unlikely that all applications will be successful, so the underspend is anticipated to be between £400,000 and £600,000. However, it is proposed to open the CLLD scheme for applications on 2 January 2021 and for it to remain open until 31 March 2021 to attract further applications that can utilise that underspend, with the full budget being committed by 30 June 2021. These target dates are within the permitted timescales for the EMFF programme.

SEAFLAG staff are confident that there are further potential applications that will be submitted, should the scheme reopen, and which will utilise much of the current underspend. Should a surplus remain on 30 April 2021, the options are for a further opening of the scheme to 31 May 2021 or the movement of funding from the CLLD measure to other measures within the Northern Ireland EMFF programme that have achieved or are nearing full commitment and there are project applications in place to utilise the funds.

Approval for moving CLLD funding to other measures, which is permitted by the UK managing authority and the Commission through an EMFF operational programme amendment, will be sought through ministerial submission on the proposed variations with the Northern Ireland EMFF programme that are required to ensure that all EMFF funding available to Northern Ireland is fully utilised and not returned to the Commission. It is anticipated that the submission will be made in April 2021.