THE Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA announced today her Department’s proposed allocations under the Executive’s Budget 2011-2015.
She said, “I welcome the Executive’s agreement on a draft Budget, which allows us to make substantial commitments to the rural community, and to plot a path for the further development of the rural economy.
“We will not have the resources to do everything we would want to do, and we are therefore taking action in a number of areas to balance our books going forward. We will optimise the contribution from the European Commission to our European Programmes. That will allow us to sustain the current level of farm land covered by agri-environment agreements – at 42%, this is the highest level ever achieved – and I aim to make a separate statement later this month about re-opening the Countryside Management Scheme. It will also allow us to sustain a high level of investment through capital grants which will total £28million of public expenditure across the Budget period.
“On top of that, we will implement a plan that will save £43 million over four years, incorporating savings from corporate services, from procurement, from administration, from transactions and lower priority programmes. This will include scaling back lower priority areas of the Food Strategy. AFBI will also reconfigure a number of lower priority work areas and will make procurement savings. We will aim to make significant savings from expenditure on animal health. Some savings will come from the eradication of brucellosis and the reduction of tuberculosis.
“But we will also want to consider how best to ensure more streamlined, objective, and transparent compensation arrangements and achieve the best value for money in procuring disease testing. Towards the end of this Budget period there will be additional revenue from the exploitation of our natural forestry assets, by wind farm developments.”
The Minister went on to outline seven key areas for which she had reserved funding.
The Minister said,“First, we have secured the necessary funding to help mitigate the risk of disallowance by revising all farm maps so that farmers have a sound basis to manage their claims under area based payment schemes.
“Secondly, we will be able to deliver a third Tranche of the Farm Modernisation Programme this year. Further details on timing and funds available will be announced in due course.
“Thirdly, we will enhance our commitment to anti-poverty measures in rural areas, raising expenditure to around £16million over the Budget period.
“Fourthly, we will continue progress towards the eradication of Brucellosis and TB, including re-procuring and enhancing our animal traceability information technology, commissioning wildlife studies, and we will provide funding for the enforcement of the new Welfare of Animals legislation.
“Fifthly, we will continue to deliver a comprehensive range of front line services, including education, training, knowledge transfer, scientific and technical programmes.
“Sixthly, we will continue to implement the Floods Directive, taking on new responsibilities for reservoir safety.
“Finally, I have secured funding to allow us to progress the development of a new Headquarters for DARD in a rural area, and to complete the DARD Direct network of offices, enhancing our customer service.”
The Minister added that the new Headquarters would be developed in compliance with the recommendation in the Bain Report, to test the viability of placing a departmental headquarters at a location outside the Greater Belfast area. Minister Gildernew said, “This is an exciting prospect. It will bring decision taking on agriculture and rural development into the heart of the community we serve, bringing government closer to the people. I see this relocation, as George Bain recommended, as an important first step to relocate a significant share of public sector jobs to rural areas, bringing economic and social benefits from increased local spending and access to high quality, local employment.”
Minister Gildernew concluded by indicating that she was publishing the Department’s proposed allocations and its Savings Delivery Plan on the internet to afford a level of detail that would allow rural interests to develop their views and comment within the Executive’s consultations on the Budget. Details can be viewed online at http://www.dardni.gov.uk/dard-draft-budget-2011-2015