A RAPID deception by the Government

  • 12 November 2004
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Three years ago the Government committed almost €2 billion to help regenerate disadvantaged communities. The communities are still waiting, Hilary Curley reports

Almost €2 billion committed by the Government in 2001 to help regenerate disadvantaged communities has never materialised. Three years on, communities are still waiting for their projects to be funded.

In 2001, the Government made a commitment to channel €1.9bn from the National Development Plan (NDP) into 45 of the most disadvantaged urban areas through a programme called RAPID (Revitalising Areas through Planning, Investment and Development).

These communities were selected because of the concentration of poverty, poor infrastructure, poor employment prospects and a high incidence of anti-social behaviour.

"We were told the money was in the bank. All we had to do was get the projects in. We understood that our projects would get funded in three years instead of seven because the money would be front-loaded [or fast-tracked]. None of this was true," Maria Metcaff from the North Inner City area said.

The RAPID programme was launched by the Taoiseach in 2001. Twenty-five areas were included in the first strand of the programme and a further 20 areas, located in provincial towns, were added a year later.

Local teams were formed with members from the local community and local agencies. These teams were asked to draw up plans outlining investment priorities for enterprise, health, education, housing, crime and physical infrastructure.

The plans were then submitted to central government departments where it was expected that they would be fast-tracked through the system. The communities were to receive funding through departments from the National Development Plan within three years.

The national co-ordinator of the Programme, Jerry Murphy, said that the publicity surrounding the launch of the programme created very high expectations among local people.

"The level of need identified by the local communities was enormous and took everyone by surprise," he said. Early progress reports to the national monitoring committee indicate that there was a "mis-match" between the cost of the projects submitted and the level of resources available.

The programme is coming to the end of its three-year cycle and it is difficult to find out how many of the initial projects submitted have been funded and how much of the promised €2 billion has been spent in these communities.

While the Government maintains that the programme is now yielding results, the opposition parties are claiming that people in these areas were deceived.

"The Government has cruelly misled the people in these communities. The energy people put in, the meetings that took place, all have come to nothing. RAPID was a cynical, calculated ploy to win votes in disadvantaged areas before an election. Nothing happened and anything that is moving now in these areas is being relabelled as RAPID," Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said.

The focus of RAPID now appears to have moved away from securing mainstream exchequer funding for large-scale investments in these deprived areas to small scale once-off funding grants.

Eamon Ó Cuív, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, indicated in 2003 that he was unhappy with the programme and proposed a new way forward. "In future, the RAPID programme will operate on a number of different levels in tandem," he said in the Dáil.

The large-scale projects that had been submitted by communities will "continue to be considered for funding streams in each Department".

A fund of €4.5 million has been set aside in his department for enhancing local housing estates, playgrounds and sports facilities in a bid to lever funds from other departments.

A new funding strand drawing from resources in dormant accounts was also introduced with a sum of €60m this year set aside.

But a number of the social partners who negotiated the programme claim that it has moved away from its original objective. "The current RAPID programme is not what we had envisaged when we first proposed an urban regeneration programme," Sharon Keane from the Community Workers Co-operative said. "There certainly hasn't been any evidence of front-loading of NDP expenditure. Very little has happened except for small scale infrastructural projects."

The ICTU has indicated it is equally unhappy. " The areas are still as deprived as ever," Paula Carey said. "RAPID was supposed to be a way of sustaining muchneeded exchequer investment in these areas and developing an integrated approach. The funding that has been drawn down is far too piecemeal."

There is now the additional complication for communities that anything that happens in their areas is being labelled as RAPID. It is difficult, therefore, to differentiate between what investment has been brought about as a result of the programme and what investment would have happened anyway.

"When investments are being made locally, they are being called RAPID but there is a feeling locally that they were in the pipeline anyway. There is no evidence that they were prioritised through the programme," Kevin Mulgrew from Dundalk said.

Three years after it was launched, RAPID is being extended for the forseeable future despite the fact that no review or evaluation has ever taken place.

Village will be examining in more detail what has happened in a number of the RAPID areas over the coming weeks.