Next year, the way that EU funding is allocated will change. Now is the time for local organisations to get involved in the process, says NCVO’s Oliver Henman
EU funding is often perceived as a complicated area to work in. Many organisations that I speak to tell me that they are not sure where to start, so we at NCVO aim to assist them in understanding how to access these funds.
Dating back to the origins of the European Union, the various funds that are available under the EU Structural and Investment Funds have provided a range of investment opportunities over many years. They are intended to support broad objectives – including social inclusion, employment and skills, innovation and climate change, as well as support for capital investment and start-ups.
Room for improvement
Up until the late 1990s, there were a range of specific programmes for the voluntary and community sector. However, in recent programmes the opportunities for our sector diminished, with much of the funding allocated to large-scale national programmes and leading to very large contracts. During the period 2007-2010, only 9 per cent of the ESF funds reached the voluntary sector.
Many in the sector, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), think this simply isn’t enough. And so, working with our local members represented by the European Funding Network, we prepared a major report suggesting new ways in which the funds could be delivered; ways which would enable local community organisations to be more directly involved.
The report, Unleashing the potential of Civil Society in the EU programmes 2014-20, was released in April 2012, and sets out a number of ways in which the delivery of EU Structural Funds could be widened out to ensure local voluntary organisations and social enterprises are able to bring their expertise and offer solutions to some of the critical areas of delivery of these funds. We’ve been calling for an accessible approach that includes the following:
- ensuring at least 20 per cent of the European Social Fund is allocated to social inclusion projects;
- developing easier opportunities to identify match funding for this work (including potentially the Big Lottery Fund and volunteer time); and
- providing advice and support for organisations which are looking to prepare a project in this area.
Supporting social inclusion
In the next round of EU funds, the total allocation for England will be approximately €6bn (or £5bn) ,with almost half of this likely to go to the European Social Fund. The government has agreed that 20 per cent of that should be directed toward social inclusion priorities. This means that at least £500m should become available for this type of work. This money could, for example, be spent on assisting young people in developing their employability, or in supporting some of the most vulnerable people to develop their own project ideas for local regeneration.
The government has now set out the parameters for these funds, and has agreed to the principle of allocating this money at the local level. Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) will drive the allocation process, and have now been issued with guidance on how to set their local priorities, which includes explanations of the key priorities, such as social inclusion, employment, skills, low carbon, support for innovation and social enterprise (see European Structural and Investment Funds strategies: supplementary guidance to local enterprise partnerships, available on the www.gov.uk website).
LEPs have also been offered several choices on how to deliver these funds, such as a specific ‘community-led local development’ model (this would allow local groups to come together and set out their own solutions to the most pressing local challenges).
Furthermore, LEPs are asked to consider potential match funding for these activities and can choose to engage with the Big Lottery Fund if they are looking for additional support to focus on social inclusion.
A big opportunity
We understand that LEPs are consulting with local stakeholders right now. If local organisations want to contribute to the priorities of their LEP area, and discuss local choices on all the funds encompassing social and wider infrastructure goals, they should be engaging now with their local networks. This is a major opportunity to set out the principal priorities for the next seven years of EU funding, and could enable innovative local match funding to be used.
So far, it seems that not all areas have established a strong link between the LEP and the voluntary community/social enterprise sector, so we are keen to provide connections where necessary. You can find relevant local partners through our website (europeanfundingnetwork.eu), and we’re happy to put you in touch with local experts to link you in to the local discussion.
No time to lose
The LEPs intend to submit their strategic priorities by early October, so there’s no time to lose. We are working with a wide range of partners in NCVO’s European Funding Network to ensure that our members are able to contribute to the process and bring forward the needs of their local communities.
This is the moment for local organisations to have their voices heard. Overall, this could lead to a major change in the delivery of EU funds, and a wider change to local decision-making. If enough local organisations are able to mobilise and speak to their LEP group, then this opportunity could be transformed into a new way of working locally that recognises the needs of communities and gives them the choice over key investments.
A simpler approach that enables local people to decide? That would be a big change for Europe!
Oliver Henman is EU and international campaigns manager at NCVO
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 32, August 2013
Changing the delivery of EU funds: NCVO’s key asks
A specific programme with smaller grants to enable access for civil society local community-led approaches that use EU funds according to local needs;
1. Allowing for a blend of funding mechanisms – including grants, contracts and social investment – that can better reach community organisations
2. Innovative approaches to match funding EU grants, including use of volunteer time;
3. Simplification and alignment of the EU funds which will allow better accessibility and easier project application;
4. A priority objective to improve social inclusion, which features in all four structural funds;
5. Support for the creation of community groups, co-operatives and social enterprises to meet local needs and provide employment;
6. Recognition of the role that CSOs can play in the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change; and
7. Capacity building to raise awareness of the funds and ensure that community organisations are better able to access these funds.