MAGHERAFELT Councillor Seán McPeake has led a delegation of local government representatives to Brussels and the European Parliament.
The series of meetings and workshops focused on reviewing the allocation of EU structural funds and planning for what is required within the next round of funding programmes post 2014.
The team met with representatives of the Regional and Urban Policy Committee in Europe, the head of the office of the north of Ireland Executive in Brussels and, also held separate meetings with each of the north`s three MEP`s.
Commenting on the visit NILGA president councillor Mc Peake said: “This is a hugely anxious and crucial time for those charged with delivering European funding packages within both local and regional governments.
“The prospects of a decreased EU budget is unnerving for those seeking to deliver the various strands of EU funds. We emphasised the role that local government can play in the promotion of economic growth and social cohesion within local communities.”
He continued: “Councils can assist at targeting resources at areas and projects of greatest need. Models for delivering the programmes need to be simplified and made more accessible to users.
“We are all too aware of the all too bureaucratic nature of EU cross-compliance and auditing. Whilst NILGA is in total agreement of the need for safeguards the current delivery models are cumbersome and are not cost-effective we believe the councils in partnership with social partners are the most effective bodies to deliver funding programmes.”
During the visit the delegation also received briefings on the many changes being proposed within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
“Whilst negotiations are continuing on CAP reform, what is quite clear is that Europe is examining all options around future payment levels with the aim of some form of `equalising` payment levels throughout all member states. The consequences of this whilst not yet fully determined may take several years to be fully realised,” said councillor McPeake.
The delegation also had separate meetings with the north`s three MEP`s, Martina Anderson, Diane Dodds and Jim Nicholson.
The MEP`s listened and took on board suggestions on ways of further integrating their EU activities with the Assembly and local government work streams.
The councillor concluded: “All in all these meetings concluded what proved to be a tremendously useful European visit for the local government delegation.”