What Follows European Social Fund (ESF)?
Each year the European Union spent 2.1 billion pounds within the United Kingdom. Now we have left the European Union, the UK Government has started to share details of their replacement scheme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Investment from EU Structural Funds will continue to be spent by local areas until 2023 and the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund, on average reaching around £1.5 billion a year, will be launched in 2022, will support people and places throughout the UK. It will target those people and places most in need and aims to support infrastructure-based projects and bespoke employment and skills programmes. Priority will be tailored to local needs, investment in communities and places.
Hopefully, Government will use this opportunity to bypass the limitations of EU funding with a successor that is better tailored to the needs and aspirations of the UK, will focus on our domestic priorities for people and places, strip out overly prescriptive spending and application requirements and reduce bureaucracy. It is vital that no area loses out on funding that they would have been due from the European Union. Any future funding from Westminster needs to be of equivalent value as a minimum. The UK Community Renewal Fund for 2021-22 which provides an additional £220 million of investment, is outlined as preparing local communities to take full advantage of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund when it launches in 2022.
A parallel fund, the Levelling Up Fund focuses on capital programmes. It will invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK. The £4.8 billion fund will support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets.
The UK Government is continuing to hold consultation events and it remains to be seen what shape these funds will take as their plans progress. This is causing some concern among the devolved administrations as not only has the UK Government failed to confirm the precise form of the funds and their values, some 5 years after it was confirmed in the referendum that it would be needed, but their plans demonstrably bypass the devolved administrations of Scotland and Cymru which are themselves the products of democratic referenda. A very similar situation exists for the devolved city regions with billions at risk of being lost.
3SC is among the many members of ERSA who have argued for a flexible and ambitious initiative that would allow an increase in the funding and an improved methodology for the allocation of funds. Invitations have been extended to the UK Government to attend meetings and visit the kinds of schemes that would most benefit our communities[i]. A cursory glance at any of the quoted sources in this article (and many other sources) result in a politely worded but still scathing appraisal of the delayed UK Government response to this looming funding cliff. Our most vulnerable communities have depended on this funding and concern is mounting around its replacement.
It is crucial that the UK Government’s funding at least matches the European Union’s funding and does not fall short. This is a significant opportunity for Westminster to ensure that funding is financially larger, more ambitious and better allocated. In order to achieve this, the UK Government must ensure that small, agile, innovative organisations, particularly third sector SMEs, are able to bid for and compete for any opportunities to ensure the best services for service users. This is a long-standing challenge and not one that central Government has been particularly good at, with the MoJ Dynamic Framework being a recent example of a commissioning framework where this promise did not turn into reality. At 3SC we have seen the impact of this across many of our SME, third sector delivery partners.
If the UK Government truly wants to ensure that funding is targeted at those most in need then it needs to ensure that its replacement funding programmes present a level playing field for organisations of all size and sectors. It needs to ensure that SMEs, particularly third sector organisations, providing fantastic, bespoke, effective service user driven services are not excluded from applying due to, for example, bidding frameworks demanding requirements they cannot meet. It needs a bolder framework with the needs of service users at the very heart of it to ensure more effective programmes, targeted at those most in need of it across all of the UK’s nations.
Gareth Snaith, Contract Performance Manager, 3SC