Countdown to the European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-20: Ready, steady…go?

Sandra Turner

Sandra Turner is NCVO’s EU and International Manager. She heads the European Funding Network and leads on European funding at NCVO. 

The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme in England includes the:

  • European Social Fund (ESF)
  • European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
  • part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

The ESF is there to support people at a disadvantage in the labour market; ERDF is aimed at enterprises, including social enterprises and infrastructure investment and EAFRD combines support for people, small businesses and infrastructure in rural areas.

The ESF will come with around £3bn worth of funding which will need to be matched by domestic resources, mostly from public sources, and projects themselves. The total investment for the 2014-20 period will be around £6bn, and will focus on the two main priorities:

  • Inclusive Labour Markets
  • Skills for Growth.

Fund priorities

Inclusive Labour Markets

This will support projects working with:

  • unemployed people and the economically inactive
  • young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs)
  • Youth Employment Initiative providing additional funding for youth unemployment hotspots, eg Inner London, Merseyside, Tees Valley and Durham, and West Midlands
  • Active Inclusion targeting those furthest from the labour market with multiple barriers to engagement
  • Community Led Local Development, available only in specific areas, supporting actions initiated by Local Action Groups.

The results that projects must achieve depend on the target group they are supporting. For instance, if your project is working with NEETs and the unemployed/economically inactive, the only possible outcome will be a job. However, if your project is involved in the Youth Employment Initiative or is targeting the socially excluded, softer outcomes such as being engaged in job search, further training or education are also eligible.

Skills for Growth

This will support projects delivering:

  • training (formal and informal), advice and guidance focussing primarily on basic and intermediate skills
  • improving employer participation and engagement in learning so that it is responsive to the needs of the local economy and more individuals’ progress into or within learning – this is mainly about improving partnerships and systems.

The ERDF Programme will come with around £3bn worth of funding which needs to be matched by project applicants, so the total investment for 2014-20 will be around £6bn.

The vast majority of ERDF resources in England will support:

  • SMEs competitiveness
  • innovation / research and development
  • low carbon activities.

There will be limited funding for:

  • ICT
  • protection of the environment
  • climate change and
  • transport (Cornwall only).

Accessing the funds

If your organisation is interested in delivering ESF activities there are two main entry routes into the programme:

  • opt-ins
  • open calls.


These include the:

  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • Skills Funding Agency
  • National Offenders Management Service (NOMs) and the Big Lottery (BIG).

They will match the ESF at source, so projects will not need to find their own match funding. Each of these opt-ins will use different ways of procuring activities. Each opt-in may use contracts or grants, and each will have its own dedicated e-portal for applying for funds. Details of the arrangements for applying and selection of projects will be published on the websites of the opt-in organisations and NOMS in due course.

Open calls

Around 30% of ESF will be procured through open calls, where a project needs to find its own match-funding in cash, own staff time and, in exceptional circumstances, volunteer time. Only a handful of Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Areas have decided not to Opt-in.

If you want to apply through this route you will need to register on the national online system to submit an application. The online system is currently being developed and details of how to register will be made available with calls for applications. All of the ERDF will be accessible through this route too. You can find useful information in the Programme Handbook published on website

So far, it  looks like the preference across the opt-ins is for large, rather than small, contracts and grants, and small Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations’ opportunities for accessing ESF will be either at the sub-contracting level or as part of a large consortium. The only exception is Community Grants and Community Led Local Development, but these will be available only in certain areas that have not been announced yet.

When will the ESIF Growth Programme start?

The operational programmes for ESF and ERDF have yet to be approved by the European Commission, but it is expected that these will be formally adopted in June 2015.  However, the government is hoping to launch in Mid-March 2015 on the basis of an informal approval from the Commission.

What does it mean for you?

If there is a launch in mid-March, there will be some calls for ERDF and some limited ESF open calls. We anticipate that the opt-ins should be ready to procure activity from June 2015 onwards with money reaching projects and people on the ground at the end of 2015 at the earliest. This all depends on successful negotiations with the European Commission and  still subject to change and possibly further delays. So we are getting there but not quite yet!

What should you do next?

  1. Keep up to date with all latest news across England on the European Funding Network website – we are hoping to be able to share very soon the list of VCS representatives on the Local Area ESIF Committees whose role is to represent the interests of the sector in each LEP Area.
  2. Check your LEP’s website as we know local partners are busy preparing Local Implementation Plans which will detail what activities  will be funded
  3. Contact your local BIG PDF contact who are very busy with awareness raising activities in 36 of the 39 LEP areas
  4. Contact the sub-regional members of the NCVO European Funding Network keep an eye on the website
  5. Sign up to our European Funding Network newsletter

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