While this report provides an overview of how LEADER funded projects have contributed to the development of rural communities, the key limitation of the analysis is the small and potentially partial sample. This is because only a quarter of 100 invited LEADER applicants participated in the focus groups and secondly, only successful applicants attended. Consequently, the sample is expected to be positively biased in favour of LEADER which is why a critical evaluation in terms of either negative or insufficient impact is difficult. Additionally, even though focus groups locations were chosen to represent a wide variety of LAGs, the data presented cannot be representative. This is also true for the quantitative aspect of the analysis as here only limited data is available at this stage.
However, the report shows some interesting findings. In terms of economic impact, LEADER funding has contributed to a widening of skillsets, has not only helped to create and maintain jobs, but also in some cases helped to retain people in the area. Additionally, projects seemed to have had a "knock-on" effect on the local economy. In terms of social impact, LEADER funded projects seemed to really have helped to create social cohesion and networks and even helped to establish collaboration. Culturally, projects have contributed to preserving heritage and traditions and make these more accessible to the wider society. Lastly, environmental impact was achieved as natural assets were developed and both locals and tourists got in touch with the countryside.
Challenges mainly centre around the issue of claims and the delay in payments that require applicants to advance payments which is particularly a problem for small organisations.
Recommendations based on the findings are to hold onto the bottom-up and local approach of LEADER, but to introduce standards of services to LAGs. In case of poor performance, services need to be centralized to ensure fair and quick payments. Additionally, it should be evaluated whether payments partly could be made upfront to help smaller organisations. To increase efficiency of any future funding programmes, the report also recommends to distinguish between grant sizes and also types of projects. Lastly, funding should be more flexible to increase continuity between projects if this is possible post-Brexit.
Email: Eva Kleinert