Implementing LAGs and Local Strategies
How to form a Local Action Group (LAG)?
"Local Champion" wanted
The "Local Champion" is an important concept within LEADER. The initiative for creating a LAG partnership normally comes from a person – or group of persons with the necessary credibility, ability and wide public support at the local level. Chair persons or leaders of different third sector organisations and representative bodies (e.g. village development associations, trade organisations), business people and farmers are typical examples of private sector initiators. Mayors, municipal officials, local politicians and school rectors have often taken the lead from the public side. The process normally requires at least one committed and enthusiastic person at the beginning who is then able to motivate and mobilise the others. Typically, he/she may also become the first Chairperson of the LAG.
Legal form and registration
To achieve wide public acceptance, it is important to involve all possible interest groups right from the start. A LAG may have to comply with a legal registration process early in its formation if so required by the national legislation. A non-profit association is a typical legal form for a LAG, which also enables free membership for anyone living in the territory. The statutes (whatever their legal form) should define the basis of LAG membership, its size and composition as well as that of the Board of Directors or decision-making bodies and any General Assembly and their associated decision-making procedures.
From top-down to bottom-up
The very first initiative for LAG creation can often be top-down. It may reach the territory as a call for proposals from central or regional authorities or as a capacity building project led by contracted experts. It is crucially important that the local level actors sign up to the initiative and show their broad commitment. One of the most common reasons for a LAG's failure is the failure to embed it properly in the community resulting in small, often consultant-driven circles.
The consultation and design process for the Local Development Strategy normally starts immediately after the emerging partnership is established (any formal LAG legal structure can be established later). This gives an opportunity for the partnership stakeholders to get to know each other better and learn to work together for a common goal. Building trust amongst the partners is one of the main cornerstones of the LEADER approach and this must be worked at and sustained.
The Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) EU No 1305/2013 Articles 32 – 34 sets common basic requirements for LAGs and Community-Led Local Development. The Rural Development Regulation EU No 1305/2013 Articles 42 – 44 makes additional specific provisions for LEADER LAGs. The main common criteria and roles include:
The area defined
The operational area of the LAG must be? a specific sub-regional area with a population normally between 10,000 and 150,000. These elements should be defined in the LAG’s Local Development Strategy. The area of the LAG does not necessarily have to follow administrative borders. Any area can only belong to one LEADER LAG but may overlap with a LAG under a different fund e.g. a Fisheries LAG provided that both local development strategies are complementary and are not in competition with each other.
The Local Development Strategy shall include a description of the management and monitoring arrangements for the strategy and demonstrate the capacity of the LAG to implement the strategy.
Administrative and financial lead partner
Managing authorities are responsible for ensuring that LAGs either select one partner within the group as administrative and financial lead or that the group come together in a legally constituted common structure.
Community-led local development must be led by local action groups composed of representatives of public and private local socio-economic interests, in which, at the decision-making level neither public authorities, as defined in accordance with national rules, nor any single interest group represents more than 49 % of the voting rights.
Skills to administer public funds
The LAG must show in its statutes and strategy how it will organise itself internally and acquire the sufficient economic and administrative skills required to administrate public funds.
Member States define the respective roles of the LAGs and the authorities responsible for the implementation tasks relating to the Local Development Strategy. LAG tasks include:
- Designing and implementing the community-led local development strategies;
- Building the capacity of local actors to develop and implement the operations;
- Drawing up a transparent and non-discriminatory selection procedure including defining objective selection criteria for selecting operations. This should avoid conflicts of interest and ensure that at least 50% of votes cast in selection are from non-public authority partners;
- Ensuring that selected operations fit the Local Development Strategy and are prioritised according to their contribution to its objectives and targets. They may also be responsible for the selection of cooperation projects;
- Prepare and publish calls (or an ongoing process) for project submissions and receiving and assessing such applications;
- Monitor the implementation of the strategy and its supported operations including carrying out specific evaluation activities;
- LAGs may be a beneficiary and implement operations under the strategy.
FOCUS GROUP 1: The ENRD Contact Point facilitated four focus groups during the period 2007-2013, these focused on different aspects of the implementation of the LEADER approach. Focus Group 1 looked into the implementation of the bottom-up approach.
The main components which LAGs are typically comprised of are their membership, decision making bodies and their professional staff team. The scale and nature of this varies from LAG to LAG and is often governed by the scale of the LAG budget.
LAG membership is normally open to individuals and representatives of organisations and businesses living and / or working within the LAG boundaries. Both private individuals and local public/private organisations can become members. The members are the most important resource for the LAG's operation. Some LAGs set up a small membership fee in order to collect private funds and strengthen the members’ commitment to the work of the LAG. Good practice suggests that LAGs should carry out a mapping exercise to ensure that their membership is broadly representative and inclusive and includes key local partners who can contribute to its work.
Subject to having fulfilled Member State legal considerations a LAG can otherwise freely organise itself internally, according to its constitution. Some LAGs operate as a relatively small partnership with all members actively participating in the work and decision making of the LAG, others have a more complex governance structure e.g. involving an executive committee or board, a General Assembly and specific sub committees.
Where a LAG employs a General Assembly, it is common for all LAG members to be invited to meet once or twice a year. Where used, a General Assembly is normally in charge of selecting the Board and the Chairperson (sometimes referred to as the President) from amongst the LAG members. Such a selection process should normally respect the public-private partnership principle as well as those of social inclusion e.g. in terms of territorial, gender and age equity. A General Assembly may have other formal duties defined by the constitution like approving the annual reports, accounts and financial statements of each year. It may also have the power to change the LAG's constitution. The make up of the General Assembly must reflect that set out in the CPR and no more than 49% of the membership of any decision making body may come from a single interest group.
Board / Executive Committee
The LAG Board may comprise the full LAG membership or be a subset of the membership, it will have an elected chair or president. It undertakes the everyday decision-making of the LAG and oversees its activities, legal and financial functions. The membership of the Board is normally defined in the constitution: typically, it would involve between 10 and 20 members and would meet monthly or bimonthly. The composition of this body must also reflect that set out in the CPR and no more than 49% of the membership of any decision making body may come from a single interest group, including the public sector as a whole. Board members normally sign a statement of confidentiality regarding all information obtained through their position e.g. regarding project applications. As local activists and residents Board members may sometimes face a ‘conflict of interests’ situation, consequently there must be a robust conflict of interests procedure in place specifying when they cannot take part in LAG decision-making.
The LAG General Assembly or Board may designate sub-committees or expert groups to undertake specific tasks either on a short term or ongoing basis. Such a sub group may prepare and evaluate material to be presented to the Board for decision-making. Project evaluation, project monitoring and cooperation sub-committees are typical examples, here issues can be discussed and prepared more in depth than in the Board.
The LAG / Board hires the LAG staff, they may be employed by one of the partners, often the ‘administrative and financial lead partner’. This must be done within the LAG's management and animation budget, which can be a maximum of 25% of the LAG's overall public funds expenditure. As the LAG budgets and the management and animation tasks are highly variable so too is their level of staffing, varying from less than one Full Time Equivalent to five or more. Manager, project advisor, animateur, business advisor, transnational coordinator and office assistant are typical LAG staff roles.
Accountant & auditors
An accountant can also be a LAG staff member but more usually this role is outsourced or located within the ‘administrative and financial lead partner’ team. The accountant plays a key role in successful LAG management and financial reporting together with the financial auditors. The auditors can also provide administrative and financial advice throughout the year, not only when auditing the accounts.
The LAG (or Board) evaluates and decides
Having led and overseen the development and approval of the Local Development Strategy the next main duty for the LAG members or board is to evaluate, prioritise and select the project applications that implement the strategy. The decision making process must respect the LAG’s own procedures and those specified in the CPR. The Board also has many other roles. The members should be knowledgeable antennae for the LAG's animation and advisory work with project applicants. They may also be project applicants and implementers themselves but must respect LAG conflict of interest procedures. To maintain their capacity national or regional training sessions may be organised by the Managing Authority or National Rural Network (NRN).
The role of the Manager and other staff
The LAG Manager together with other staff members and possible sub-committees may support the turning of an applicant's initial idea into a project plan and a viable funding application. The Manager and the LAG team normally review project applications against the strategy selection criteria using the LAGs specific evaluation mechanism. The LAG Manager is in charge of preparing the project presentations to the Board.
The Manager's role is central in supporting the project preparation and selection processes and also in supporting or overseeing other LAG staff and their duties like advisory activities, animation, payments, administration, cooperation and monitoring and evaluation. The Manager often represents the voice or face of the LAG in communications and is involved with cooperation and networking activities.
In the Member States where LAGs are responsible for both project selection / approvals and payments, these two tasks must be separately assigned to different staff members.