Support to the Least-Developed Districts in Slovakia

In 2016, Slovak government launched a programme to develop the least-developed districts. They set up a team of experts from different fields to come together with real answers. I was pleased to talk with Anton Marcinčin, the Plenipotentiary of the Government for the Support of the Lagging Region, and Katarina Smatanová, an architect, urbanist and researcher, working on implementation of the particular pilot projects. They informed me about their work and I also enquired about the feasibility of my project.

Short summary of the programme:

Taken from the programme website:

- To accelerate development of lagging regions the government of Slovakia has passed the Law on Support of Lagging Regions (Act No. 336/2015 Coll.). Initially the support is provided to 12 out of 79 districts of Slovakia with the highest unemployment rate. In these 12 districts unemployment rate was 1.6 times above the national average in at least 9 of 12 consecutive quarters.

- To unleash the potential of lagging regions and their local communities, bottom-up developmental approach is adopted. The bottom-up approach is combined with top-down decision-making of national and regional authorities.

- Regional Councils in cooperation with experts prepare a plan for the development of the district, i.e. Action Plan. Action plans also contain pilot projects that have long-term impact on sustainable development of the lagging regions. These projects use local resources and create jobs in sectors in which lagging regions have comparative advantages: for example family farming and viticulture combined with processing of agricultural products, agro-tourism and traditional crafts. Many projects deal with long-term unemployed workers who have no or minimum qualification. For these people, supported municipal social enterprises are created that help the long-term unemployed to develop skills and working habits enabling them to smoothly move to the labour market.

Meeting summary:

-       Although the site for my project is an area with high unemployment and the lack of additional funding, it is not located directly in the regions classified by the government as the least developed and therefore the funding would not apply.

-       The ‘Salt story’ increased the interest and raised a question of any possibilities of extending the project into the least developed regions (I am working on that now)

-       The programme sees education as the basis for any kind of improvement. They aim to link education with employability. This includes mainly primary and secondary schools with specification

-       KNOW-HOW is extremely important and the cooperation with different specialists is needed. Qualified people in the undeveloped regions are missing and experts have to move in for at least 3 years to run the project. (I was told about one know-how project of bilateral exchange between Slovakia and the UK, particularly the prince Charles’ farm, which uses the hi-tech farming methods for growing tomatoes)

-       Land ownership is still an unsolved problem and the programme is seeking especially the municipalities with a sufficient amount of land being in the municipality’s ownership

-       Supported projects are the ones which are the cheapest and at the same time the most effective

-       The rule: Proposed project must come from the initiative of the municipalities: bottom-up. An initiative Mayor is the key!

-       The problem of using wood as the building material and source of new employment is relatively complex and according to current laws inefficient and restricted. Almost all local wood is exported abroad and wood used for construction is imported. There is a pilot project supporting wood industry ( wood harvesting is done in one village, prefabricated wooden panels are made in the neighbouring village and new social housing from produced panels in being built in another village)