Viable countryside through local action – 54 new Leader groups started
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has selected a total of 54 Leader groups to work on rural development in various parts of Finland in 2015–2020. Leader groups are local development organisations that provide financing to enterprises and development projects within the area.
Leader work is funded under the Rural Development Programme for Mainland Finland, with about five per cent of the funds allocated to Leader. The total funding for the groups of 300 million euros is composed of the EU, state and municipal funds. The amount of the funding for each group depends on how good the development strategy prepared by the group based on the needs of the specific area is. In targeting the funds priority is given to sparsely populated rural areas and rural heartland areas.
The Leader groups have a significant role in how the ideas of the people can be refined into profitable business and improvements that benefit greater numbers of people. – The impact of Leader action on regional economies is very important especially in the current difficult economic situation. Local development is swift and innovative and it may alleviate the consequences of the adverse economic conditions, says Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Petteri Orpo. – Local people and communities and municipalities have grasped the opportunities offered by Leader and they are strongly committed to this work.
Leader is low-threshold action where the residents can have a say in what needs to be improved in one’s own living environment. In 2007–2013 Leader funding led to the creation of about fifteen hundred new jobs and start-up aid was provided to more than 800 new enterprises. A total of more than 7 700 development projects were carried out concerning, for example, support for the elderly to allow them to continue living in their own home by organizing a voluntary telephone service, and search for potential entrepreneurs among the young. Among other things Leader funding has contributed to the expansion of a company which now manufactures masks for NHL goalkeepers.
The development strategies were prepared through joint effort by the local residents, entrepreneurs and associations. The selection of the Leader groups was a two-stage process where the groups had the opportunity to refine their plans based on feedback obtained in the first stage. The feedback came from a broadly-based selection group and the Ruralia Institute as an external evaluator.
Young people living in the countryside are a key priority in many of the development strategies. Growth is sought from the development of economic activities, while work will also be done to enhance the sense of community and social capital. Many of the groups also aim to improve the state of the environment.
The application for support for rural development will take place during 2015. Any questions regarding this may be addressed to the local Leader group or the relevant Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.