Local Enterprise Partnerships, growth and EU funds: The role of civil society in developing EU SIF strategies – where do go from here?

Ingrid Gardiner was NCVO’s ESF Effectiveness Manager (contract). At the time of writing she had over 18 years’ experience of working in the charitable sector both in England and Canada.

Following NCVO’s European Funding Network (EFN) event on Local Enterpise Partnership engagement, growth and EU funds: the role of civil society in developing EU Structural and Investment Funds (EUSIF) strategies and the submission of 39 strategies to BIS, I think it would be ideal to reflect on where we go from here and how we, as a sector, can influence the development of the strategies which are still in draft and not set in stone.

Now is the time is now to engage if you haven’t already done so. The strategies are meant to be finalised by the end of January 2014.

This post is meant for two audiences:

  1. for voluntary and community sector organisations
  2. LEPs and strategic partners

I’ll be giving guidance and referral advice on tools produced by NCVO’s European Funding Network and Regional Voices to improve EUSIF strategies and start the dialogue.

LEPs, Growth and EU funds event

Ten LEPs attended our event with presentations given by the Buckinghamshire & Thames Valley LEP, the European Anti-Poverty Network, the Big Lottery Fund, Network for Europe, Regional Voices as well as DEFRA, WCVA (Welsh Council for Voluntary Action), NESTA and members from the Financial Instruments sub-committee.

We talked about:

  • social inclusion (opt-in)
  • social investment
  • community led local development
  • social innovation
  • different approaches to match funding such as volunteer time as match funding in kind.

The European Funding Network website has all the presentations from the event.

Speech by Alex Pratt, OBE, the Chair of Buckinghamshire and Thames Valley LEP

Alex opened the event and gave the audience a refreshing and insightful presentation on LEPs and what they were set up to do.

He also gave the sector some useful advice concerning making contact with your local LEP.

LEPs are a “mixed bag” of organisations and any approach made to them should be informed by some preliminary research

Some LEPs are strongly business-led, others are entrepreneur-led, yet others are local authority-led either by members or by a strong executive. Less than 50% of LEPS are legally constituted. It’s crucial to be aware that all LEP chairs are volunteers and they may be unaware of what charities and social enterprises can offer.

Alex used his own LEP as an example which formed as a social enterprise in the first place

It was set up as a business collective, owned and driven by entrepreneurs with strong support from the local authority. Bucks LEP has a better understanding of civil society and is more sympathetic to the civil society offer due to their entrepreneurial focus. He reiterated “No LEP can ignore charities in terms of their economic strategy”.

A warning – some LEPs, even the bigger ones, may not have resources to handle enquiries

We shouldn’t assume that they are not interested in the sector and we may need to shout louder to be noticed. He cautioned the sector to prepare the evidence base to support our ideas.

LEPs do not often think of civil society organisations as separate and distinctive in terms of growth and cohesion

Building better and stronger businesses is a way to improve people’s lives so the distinction between profit and not for profit can be blurred. It is best to think in terms of what you can offer in terms of delivery. Articulate your offer:

  • Are you offering bespoke training or can you help with innovation?
  • Can you deliver more for less?

Conclusion – the best way to get to the top of the list is not to just consider EU funds but the priorities of the local growth fund and other initiatives driven by the LEP

How does your organisation fit in and add value?

What are the next steps? The devil is in the detail…

NCVO in partnerships with Regional Voices have produced support tools for the sector and LEPs, including a business case for engagement with civil society organisations, embedding social inclusion questionnaire, community led local development, community grants and equality & diversity cross cutting papers which will help once LEPs receive feedback from BIS.

Now that LEPs have submitted their strategies, they have space to think further on how to expand on opt in offers:

  • What programmes and projects would fit best with Big Lottery match funding and help deliver the 20% social inclusion target?
  • Most importantly, and not addressed in the current programme, is how social inclusion projects can be more flexible for client groups?
  • Are some LEPs considering going out to consultation to the sector using surveys or a questionnaire?
  • How can a LEP co-ordinate the number of national solutions through opt ins and localised plans?

Our offer and next steps

ESF logoThere are a lot of uncertainties in the new programme but we are happy to offer support to LEPs through one to one surgeries, workshops and events. Now is the time to flesh out the detail and add value to the strategies.

Please consider using our support tools and European Funding Network members to consult with the sector.

Please contact the European team at NCVO with your questions or support requirements

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