Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
The Welsh Government is pleased with the progress in developing and implementing its European funding programmes. The Minister for Finance and Government Business recently announced the approval by the European Commission (EC) of the Welsh Government’s Structural Funds programmes, and we now look forward to approval of the Wales Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020 (RDP).
The Welsh Government consulted widely with stakeholders to inform the development of the RDP, which was submitted to the EC in July 2014. Since November we have been in discussion with the EC on its formal feedback. This scrutiny involves the lead directorate DG AGRI (Agriculture and Rural Development) as well as DG ENV (Environment), DG CLIMA (Climate Action), DG REGIO (Regional Policy) and DG EMPL (Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion).
The EC services have to assess 118 programmes, and therefore their workload has been immense. Our own draft programme detail runs to over 650 pages of text and data. At December’s Agriculture Council Phil Hogan, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, explained that only 9 of 118 operational programmes had been adopted so far, with another 20 scheduled to be “ready for adoption” in early 2015.
The Welsh Government has been engaged closely with EC officials in a constructive dialogue, and we have been given to understand that they are content with the scope, approach and ambition of our RDP and that the areas still under discussion are not fundamental. Accordingly, we believe that our RDP is one of those at an advanced stage. We hope to receive informal approval for the Programme during February, although for EC budgetary reasons it is likely that the formal acceptance will only be received in the Summer, when the EU Multi Annual Financial Framework has been accepted.
We have been planning towards the delivery of the constituent parts of the RDP in parallel with our negotiation work with the EC. It is my aim to introduce schemes as early as possible, and I am optimistic that we will be able to launch following receipt of informal approval.
The land-related agri-environment Glastir interventions will operate application windows year-on-year. The Glastir Advanced and Glastir Organic schemes have already been opened to expressions of interest, with a view to payments in 2016 and 2017.
Public procurement is mandatory under European Regulations for certain programme elements. In our RDP they are Farming Connect, the Farm Advisory Service and Rural Business Advisory Scheme. In the current programme Farming Connect will continue with one to one advice and training until 31st March 2015 and the main knowledge transfer programme has been extended until 30th June 2015. We expect the new contracts to begin in July 2015, at which time a new programme of courses etc. will be open for beneficiaries to apply for. The intention is to minimise any gap in service provision after the 30th June 2015.
LEADER will be delivered by Local Action Groups (LAG). I am pleased to report that LAGs and their Local Development Strategies are being assessed with a view to making approvals during January 2015.
The remainder of the RDP will be delivered through socio-economic grant programmes. These will be handled through a series of calls for proposals where the eligibility and selection criteria are publicised in advance and clearly identified closing dates are set. Calls will be opened throughout the programme and will be advertised to ensure beneficiaries are aware what window is open, the amount of budget available and when the next window will be opening. This will provide a calendar of calls so potential beneficiaries can plan ahead and have their Expressions of Interest ready.
I will continue to ensure that Members are regularly updated as matters progress, and will provide further details in due course on the expected timetable for beneficiaries to apply for support.