Rural projects may be in jeopardy due to cuts, says Sinn Fein

editorial image

Support for community and rural affairs in Upper Bann could be withdrawn if budget proposals at the Department of Agriculture get the go-ahead, warns Sinn Fein.

MLA John O’Dowd expressed ‘grave concern’ at proposals which would cease all the rural affairs programmes within the Department.

He said it could lead to the withdrawal of support for community and rural development to organisations across Upper Bann,

He said: “Tory/DUP cuts to public spending has seriously undermined the capacity to deliver essential public services. In response to a proposed budget cut of 7.2% between 2018/19 and 2019-20, DAERA has put forward three scenarios and in all of these they have suggested removing rural affairs as a core function of the department.

“In real terms this means that hands-on support with funding applications and provision of small grants, help with Charity Commission registration and reporting, support around community planning, community funding, action planning, health programmes, community and rural development will be terminated in two months.

“I believe this proposal is contrary to the implementation of the Rural Needs Act and the delivery of the Rural Development Programme which is currently bringing investment, jobs and services to rural areas across the north.

“Rural communities are already contemplating their future in the shadow of Brexit which threatens the livelihood of over 20,000 farm families who rely on EU support and access to the EU market. This latest proposal is a further blow to those communities.

“The continuing cuts to the funding of local services by the DUP/Tory administration in London will hamper the ability of any new Executive to protect public services. The reality is unless there is a change in the economic policies from London any new Executive will be faced with continuing cuts to public services. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, local politicians ability to serve the community is being undermined by cuts from Westminster.”

A DAERA Spokesperson said: “The Briefing on the Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20 illustrates the options that may need to be considered by Ministers through the use of three possible scenarios. These are purely illustrative and there is no preferred scenario. They are not proposed budget settlements and no decisions have yet been taken. It will be for Ministers to decide on the way forward. This remains an information gathering process and the final budget decided by Ministers could be different from any of the three scenarios presented.”