‘Nod and a wink’ sees £40 million spent on unviable rural funding scheme

Green Party councillor John Barry has today, Thursday 14 July 2016, highlighted that £40 million has been wasted on an unviable funding scheme aimed at tackling low farm incomes.

In the ‘Consultation on Options for future support to Areas of Natural Constraint’, released earlier this year by DARD, it was made clear that the proposed scheme ‘would not offer a focused and cost effective mechanism to tackle the causes of relative low farm income’.

The consultation document also stated ‘Neither would it target support accurately to those farmers with low incomes,’ and ‘there was no readily justifiable reason why this mechanism was needed for a particular sub – section of the rural population’.

Councillor John Barry said,

“Despite it being clearly stated that this programme was economically unviable and would not address the issues experienced by its intended audience, former DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill rejected this advice. She instead issued, with the agreement of her Executive colleagues, a Ministerial Direction in 2014 for the scheme to be continued in 2016 and 2017 at a cost of £20 million per year.

“There are serious questions Minister O’Neill and, indeed, the Northern Ireland Executive need to answer.

“On what grounds can a support mechanism which is adjudged to be a failed policy for supporting farm incomes in difficult farming areas be simply pushed through on a nod and a wink? What initiatives have had to be sacrificed in the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme to pay for this unviable scheme?

“At a time of tight budgets and the need to ensure every pound of public money is spent to best effect, here we have a clear case of exactly the opposite – a waste of public money to the tune of at least £40 million.

“We often hear politicians talk of the ‘evidence base’ for policy as being a bedrock of good policy making. Here we have a case of the evidence base being rejected on grounds we can only presume of political expediency.

“How on earth can we hope to demonstrate to our citizens that policy-making is conducted to the highest standards when we have such blatant rejection of evidence?

“I call on the new DAERA Minister to review the funding scheme and ensure that any necessary measures put in place offer value for money and are effective.”

ENDS

Notes for editors
DARD (February 2016) ‘Consultation on Options for future support to Areas of Natural Constraint’, available here: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/consultations/dard/Options%20for%20future%20support%20to%20Areas%20of%20Natural%20Constraint.pdf

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