Opening up European funds 2014-2020

Oliver Henman was Head of Partnerships & International at NCVO, and blogged about civil society around the world. Oliver left NCVO in July 2014 but his posts have been kept here for reference.

Over the past two years I’ve been deeply involved in discussions about the future of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) and today we’ve taken a major step forward with the confirmation that the Big Lottery Fund will provide match funding for approximately £260m of these funds for social inclusion objectives, opening up over £500m of the funds for voluntary organisations.

As I’ve pointed out in my previous blog posts (‘LEPs, growth and EU funds’, ‘Future of European Funds – a new beginning?’) European funds were often hard to access for many charities over the past seven year cycle, since they were delivered through large contracts that were generally inaccessible to charities and social enterprises. That’s why we’ve worked hard with the Big Lottery Fund and the Office for Civil Society to create better opportunities for civil society access to the EU funds from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

What are the funds?

ESF logoThe European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) includes two principal funds: the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF); as well as two smaller funds for rural and maritime priorities. ESF has an overall budget of £3bn with specific objectives to promote social inclusion, skills and employability for those furthest from the labour market. The social inclusion objective makes up 20% of the total, so this equals £600m earmarked for projects to support people furthest from the labour market.

In the new round, the preference for use of the funds is prioritised by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to ensure that local needs are taken into account. LEPs themselves are required to work closely with the full range of local partners, including key voluntary sector representatives, to bring together perspectives of all parts of the local community. These local partnerships select the level of funds to be allocated in each area for social inclusion and have requested specific amounts of match funding in each area from the Big Lottery Fund.

What are the opportunities for civil society?

The funds have now been localised in each LEP area according to individual LEP strategies and each area is now beginning to explore potential partnerships for delivery. However the strategies are subject to an overall Partnership Agreement which must be finalised with the European Commission in coming months. Subsequently there are Operational Programmes to be finalised for each fund, which will include detail on the delivery of projects and how the application process will work in each area.

It is likely that the delivery mechanisms will only be finalised towards the end of 2014, with funding applications beginning in early 2015. Big Lottery Fund will likely host the application process directly on its own website and organisations will be expected to show that they are aiming to deliver a project that fits with the local priorities identified through the LEP strategy.

There are also likely to be other opportunities for projects match funded by the Skills Funding Agency, Local Authorities and the DWP itself as part of the wider package. Part of these wider funds is intended to be delivered through the Community Led Local Development approach, which enables ‘Local Action Groups’ to come together to define local needs and develop long-term joint plans. Finally about eight LEPs have also chosen to explore a ‘Local Impact Fund’, which will bring in social investment capital to match fund projects that aim to deliver innovative solutions to local social challenges.

We’re keen to keep you engaged in this discussion: our European Funding Network includes many of the major local networks involved in dialogue with LEPs and we’ll be hosting further events around the country in coming months.

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