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Council hit by new funding barrier

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FUNDING IMPASSE Mayo County Councillors heard at their monthly meeting in Aras an Chondae that talks are ongoing with the Department of Community and Rural Development regarding access to vital funding.

Council hopeful funding access will return next month

Oisín McGovern and Edwin McGreal

Mayo County Council are being denied access to funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development as the ongoing funding controversy continues.
Yesterday (Monday), the Chief Executive of Mayo County Council, Mr Kevin Kelly, said he is hopeful the authority will be in a position to receive Department funding by the end of May.
It comes after it emerged last Tuesday that Mayo had received no allocation for Local Improvement Schemes (LIS) roads. Subsequently it has been confirmed there is a stay on all funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development to Mayo County Council until the Department have completed an audit of the council and are satisfied with Mayo County Council’s management of funding from the Department.
In response to a query by this newspaper, the Department of Community and Rural Development confirmed that Mayo County Council access to their funding schemes will be made available ‘once the Department is satisfied with the level of assurance provided through the enhanced procedures and reviews that it receives from Mayo County Council’.
The omission last week of Mayo from the LIS funding brought to five the number of Department funding announcements Mayo have been left out of since the controversy over greenway funding first broke last December.
LIS roads are those not owned by the council and it is one of several schemes administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development which Mayo has failed to gain funding for in recent months.  It all started with news last December that the council had to hand back over €1.2 million for tourism and outdoor recreation projects following a series of audits by the Department.
Money was handed back for projects the council had drawn down funding for as completed projects. However, many of these projects were not finished and some had not even begun.
The two stand-out items were a greenway bridge in Achill which the council said was completed in 2018 but is still not in place; and a greenway from Bertra to Lecanvey, also still not in place.

Strict deadline
The council were also given strict deadlines to complete other projects which were found to be non-compliant.
Mayo TD Michael Ring, the previous Minister for Rural and Community Development who sanctioned many of the projects while in office, called on the council to ‘co-operate’.
“I’ve spoken to the Minister (Heather Humphreys) and I know she will look favourably on Mayo if the council comply. At the moment she has no option – she cannot give funding to Mayo County Council.
“She has to live within the law too. She has auditors to answer up to. Otherwise it will be Heather Humphreys before the Public Accounts Committee and on Prime Time.
“There is no point in councillors pretending nothing happened. When the audit is done, we will see what we can salvage for Mayo. In the meantime I hope the council are working on the other projects the Department gave them deadlines for,” he told The Mayo News.
Mayo also failed to receive any funding under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme which was allocated last month, despite applying for a total of €1.4 million.
Processes and procedures
Mayo County Council Chief Executive Kevin Kelly said that the council had undertaken several changes to their processes and procedures in order to regain access to grant funding.
He said that local authority could obtain access to government grant funding if their reforms satisfied the terms set by the Department of Rural and Community Development.
A separate internal audit of the Clár and Town and Village Renewal scheme applications is also being conducted and is ‘near completion’.
Mr Kelly said he expected that all of these audits would be completed by May.
Mayo County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Michael Smyth acknowledged the ‘disappointment’ that Mayo had lost out on millions in grant funding, but said there had been positive engagement between the council and the Department.
Elected representatives from across the county said that there was ‘a backlog’ of roads that needed refurbishment under the LIS scheme and stressed the importance of LIS funding being obtained before the summer.
Cllr Peter Flynn estimated that Mayo County Council has lost out between €5 million and €8 million since the council handed back funding allocated under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS) last December.
“That is a colossal amount of money. In any other organisation, that would probably mean redundancies,” he said.
Cllr Flynn said he hoped to see ‘significant changes’  in the local authority over the next month.

Department satisfied
Responding to councillors, Mr Kelly said that the department were satisfied with the steps the council was taking to address their governance issues.
“I’m looking to the future in Mayo. I’m not looking back. I’ve enough of that… we have a lot of work to do and a lot of stuff to deliver. The rearview mirror is pulled off and thrown over the shoulder.
“The department are very clear with me, that they are happy with the steps we’ve taken, that they are happy with the attitude we’ve shown to addressing the issues, and they are happy to work with us to get to the point that we come back on stream at the earliest possible date.”