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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17 Responses to Opening up European funds 2014-2020

  1. Paul Beevers says:

    I find myself somewhat confused by this proposition. I should explain that I work in a wildlife conservation group on Local Authority land and we have an umbrella organisation representing all of the conservation groups in that LA on which I also sit. Firstly I would like to understand why these funds are being routed through the LEP’s? Secondly I would like to get a better idea of how our group and umbrella organisation might benefit from these funds and how we should proceed if it makes sense. For example our Local Authority will not invest in skilled Rangers to help manage wildlife habitats, organise work parties and run or arrange educational activities across our sites. Can you help fill in some of these gaps for me even those are understandably early days?

    • Oliver Henman says:

      Thanks Paul,

      I appreciate that this is a complex picture and it will vary across the country. On your questions:

      1. The government has developed a model that is based on LEPs proposing strategic priorities in accordance with local needs, the intention is that all local partners are involved in these conversations and that they include economic development as well as social inclusion recommendations. However the actual delivery will be managed through organisations that provide match funding, which includes the Big Lottery Fund as well as the Skills Funding Agency and other match funders.

      2. In order to engage with these funds you will need to a) Get familiar with the priorities in your local LEP strategy; b) Show how your areas of work fit with these priorities, such as building skills for young people; c) Identify which match funder will be supporting this area of work; d) Apply to the match funder once the projects are available later in the year


      • Justin Bend says:

        Hi Oli,

        Just a little confused by your point c and d in your response above. Isn’t BIG providing the match already?

        Are you saying that projects will be funded by TO9 allocation plus BIG match plus further match funding? I was under the impression that the BIG opt-in offer to LEPs was to serve as the match funding in order to open up opportunities for charity sector…or am I mistaken and porjects will be required to attract further match funding?


        • Oliver Henman says:

          Thanks Justin,

          Yes you’re right as an ‘opt-in’ organisation BIG have agreed in principle to match fund Thematic Objective 9 on Social Inclusion so there is no need to find any extra funding.

          However there will be an application process to BIG, likely to be hosted on their website, which will be based on LEP strategic aims.

          There are also likely to be applications to other ‘opt-in’ funders including the SFA and the DWP, we will keep you informed of these as they become clearer.

  2. Can you please try and get them to take on board that Disabled people’s employment is heavily influenced by whether the jobs/workplaces are accessible or not. To address this we need to have some funding allocated for local work to encourage potential employers to be more accessible so that Disabled people are able to take advantage of the vacancies that arise.

    Often, what is needed is a small amount of advice regarding affordable solutions from someone/organisation that has personal experience and some expertise, yet this aspect of improving employment is almost always overlooked.

    • Oliver Henman says:


      The next step in this process takes place at the local level with partnerships in each LEP area. It will be really important to make the case at the local level that accessibility is an important step towards employability.

      I would recommend that you get in touch with your local partners in the LEP and show them how this can be integrated into plans for employability in your area.

  3. Dom Weinberg says:

    Will any of the BLF money be available to support organisations to get involved with other European funding – e.g. Erasmus+ ?

    • Oliver Henman says:

      Hi Dom,
      Thanks for this- this funding is specifically aimed at supporting work with the European Social Fund so I’m afraid it wouldn’t be available for Erasmus+ but our team at NCVO would be happy to advise on other options!

  4. ADB says:

    I am afraid I do not understand a word of it. What has it to offer small charities?

  5. Oliver Henman says:

    Thanks for your comment, I understand that this is a new area for many organisations.

    The main point is that there will be specific funds dedicated to supporting social inclusion and employability for those furthest from the labour market.

    Charities across the country will be able to propose projects that deliver opportunities for people who need support to improve their lives. The priorities will be customised to each local area and aim to remove barriers for employability for those furthest from the labour market, including young people and those facing multiple disadvantage.

    You can read the full priorities for ESF in the UK here:

  6. Richie B says:

    Looks like some groups with low local but of relatively high national population and who are known to be very excluded from the labour market (e.g., Gypsies and Travellers) will continue to miss out under this initiative.

    • Oliver Henman says:

      Thanks Richie,

      That’s a good point- the key issue here is to engage with wider voluntary and community representatives at the local level.

      There will be opportunities for innovative coalitions of local organisations who can serve a number of different communities within each LEP area, particularly if you can show that you can reach those who have been excluded in the past.

      Keep in touch with the team and we can plug you into relevant local networks.

  7. Pat Reynolds says:

    I’m struggling to work out how, as a tiny but national organisation, we can hope to access this funding – if we identify 15 self-employed trainers and 15 trainees, we could need to apply to 30 LEPS!

    • Sandra Turner says:

      Hi Pat sorry about the delay in replying…
      The new ESIF Programme is mostly locally-led by the LEPs and their partners. As you know each area has been allocated a pot of ESI Funds to be spent against priorities identified in the local strategies. The issue of national organisations has come up many times and I am afraid there is no easy answer to this as you do need to engage with the LEP Areas and their strategies to see what they want to deliver. There might be co-ordination across a number of LEP areas sharing the same priorities and we are awaiting to hear whether the application process will support multi-area bids.

  8. John Buckle says:

    As usual vast amounts of money being ploughed into employability programmes for the hard to reach. We have spent the past 7 years with ESF doing exactly this – where has it got us ?
    Small charities working with hard to reach young people are being starved of funds and with youth services being decimated across the country – all we are doing is creating the next generation of the unemployable & hard to reach – is there no one in the corridors of power with a brain ?
    As usual the policy makers are so far removed from the problem that the only beneficiaries are middle men running the programmes and making it almost impossible for small local organisations to help meet the needs.

    John Buckle
    25years in the West Midlands Voluntary sector

    • Sandra Turner says:

      Hi John
      I think we can all sympathise with your comments on the difficulties faced by small local charities. I do believe however that the next ESF Programme will provide more opportunities to do good, innovative work around inclusion as it is a regulatory requirement to spend at least 20% of ESF on this type of activities. There will be also funding for employment and skills and it will be important to ensure that with inclusion activities come progression routes for people to be able to have better prospects. The new programme will be moving away from large contracts and the involvement of the BIG lottery providing co-finance will mean more opportunities for local organisations to become involved.

  9. Nigel Adams says:

    Whilst I welcome efforts to make European funding more accessible, as this is clearly needed, I do not welcome the partnership with the lottery. The most socially deprived people we are working with waste their money and hope on the Lottery, something we are actively seeking to discourage. It would be impossible therefore for us to access any funding that is associated with the lottery as this would involve promoting something that takes its funding from those in greatest need