On the morning of 7 September’s Rural Water Services Conference, the Board of the NFGWS held a constructive meeting with Minister of State in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHGLH) Kieran O’Donnell TD, where it highlighted its concerns in relation to the ongoing delays in publishing the framework for the upcoming Multi-annual Rural Water Programme (MARWP).
The Board expressed its disappointment to Minister O’Donnell over the amount of time it is taking for the announcement of the new capital funding programme, which was originally slated to begin in 2022. While recognising that there are still works progressing from the previous MARWP cycle, the board conveyed the frustrations of other group water schemes that have been left waiting to commence new projects, many of which are critical upgrades of old GWS infrastructure.
At the meeting, Minister O’Donnell acknowledged the delay in developing the framework and assured the board that an announcement on the MARWP would be made in the very near future. He emphasised the importance of ensuring that the framework for the next programme was updated to meet the needs of the entire rural water sector.
The Board also highlighted that any GWS options reports to be completed under the next programme must be done so in the spirit of partnership, particularly when comparing taking-in-charge options to amalgamation and rationalisation alternatives.
It emphasised the need for a more holistic approach to assessing value for money that recognises the value of intangible assets that the sector possesses and the potential for using these assets to bring about wider environmental change at community level.
The particular potential for increased rationalisation as a sustainable option for many smaller schemes was highlighted by the Board. Speaking during his opening address at the Rural Water Services Conference, Minister O’Donnell emphasised the continued availability for amalgamation/rationalisation under the next MARWP, saying: ‘We understand the importance of what you have done as group water schemes individually; the question is, can we be more strong — in terms of synergies — collectively?’
Minister O’Donnell urged group water schemes to identify potential works across all aspects of their operations, saying: ‘I know many of you are already looking at projects but we want to encourage all group water schemes to identify suitable projects. We want to see applications coming in.’
In closing his address, Minister O’Donnell paid tribute to the work of the sector and its strong ethos of volunteerism:
‘The government stand very much in support of the collaborative approach of what the NFGWS and, particularly, GWSs the length and breadth of the country are doing.’
‘You’re playing a vital role, not only in terms of your original focus of bringing water to the home but also in improving water quality. It’s a challenge we face, we can’t ignore it, and I think your sector plays an absolutely key role. That is what this new multi-annual programme — which Minister O’Brien will be announcing shortly — will be very much centred around.
‘We acknowledge the phenomenal work you do. We applaud the volunteer aspect to it. You have one key component that is vital: you are all of your communities. You are working in your community, for your community. You’re doing it on a volunteer basis and I really want to thank you for that.’
This article originally featured in the most recent edition of the Rural Water News magazine. To read the full edition and to sign up to our magazine mailing list, click here.