Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA has announced a period of public consultation on future options for support arrangements for Less Favoured Areas (LFAs).
Currently, support is provided to farmers in the LFAs under the Less Favoured Areas Compensatory Allowances Scheme (LFACA) in recognition of the difficulties they face in farming and the role they play in maintaining the countryside and rural communities. The scheme, which is funded under the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013, provides a budget of around £22million per annum for area based payments to approximately 13,500 recipients.
In announcing the consultation, the Minister said: "LFACA provides over £22million into the rural economy every year and we need to ensure that this money continues to meet a need and deliver value for money.
"My officials have already met a number of times with key external stakeholder groups , such as the Ulster Farmers' Union, NIAPA, environmental groups, the Rural Development Council and the Rural Community Network, to help us develop this consultation document and the analysis contained within it. Their input has been extremely valuable and we will continue to engage actively with all our stakeholders to ensure we take on board a wide range of views in moving this review forward."
The Minister went on to say: "This is a very important consultation for the rural community in the North. I am therefore encouraging all individuals and organisations that have an interest in this area to consider the consultation document carefully, and particularly the options for future LFA support, and let my department have their views."
Over the past 18 months, DARD has been reviewing these support arrangements to determine if they still have a useful role to play and to prepare for expected changes to the EU legislation governing the scheme. The substantial consultation document sets out the background to the provision of LFA support and contains a very comprehensive body of evidence against which the future role of LFA support has been assessed. The document presents four alternative approaches to future LFA support and the views of stakeholders are now being sought on these options.
The full consultation document, an accompanying Easyread version and other relevant documents can be viewed at www.dardni.gov.uk/consultations. The ministerial foreword and executive summary are also available to read and download in Irish and Ulster Scots, and a range of other formats can be made available on request, e.g. large print, Braille, audio CD and other languages. Please contact:
Policy Development Branch
Upper Newtownards Road
Telephone 028 9052 0986
Textphone (for those with hearing difficulties) 028 9052 4420
The closing date for responses to the consultation 29 May 2009.
It is intended to make copies of the responses received publicly available on the DARD website at the end of the consultation period.