The Work & Pensions Select Committee has called on the Government to proceed urgently with designing a successor to the European Social Fund to ensure there is there is no gap between existing and new funding streams when the UK leaves the EU. This fund currently provides the UK with £500 million per year to fund programmes that deliver employment and skills support to people poorly served or neglected by mainstream provision, such as disabled people, offenders and prison leavers, the long-term unemployed and people with multiple barriers to work.
While the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in 2016 that Government would continue to fund existing ESF programmes scheduled to finish after Brexit, and the Government has committed to a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which will serve a similar purpose to the existing European Structural and Investment Funds (of which ESF is one), detailed design proposals have not been forthcoming. While the Government has said it plans to hold a public consultation on the future of the ESF later this year, it has yet to commit to a timeframe.
In the Committee’s report on the Fund, published on 4 April, it pushes the Government to come up with a detailed design of a successor to “guarantee certainty for providers and communities and avoid a potentially disastrous interruption in funding” following Brexit.
It also highlights out several areas where it believes a successor must better the European Social Fund, stating that retaining a separate budget within the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to support disadvantaged communities and groups is essential. It states that while the budget should remain separate it should be complementary to national provision, funding both long-term strategies for local areas and “fire-fighting” responses to local crises, and that the new fund should also remove the siloes that prevent truly wrap-around, holistic support reaching communities and individuals. It must also pare back the paperwork that accompanies the current fund.
The Committee has recommended that the detailed design of the ESF’s successor should include:
- Establishing a new arm’s length body, or creating an arrangement with an existing one, to hold the fund’s budget, dovetailing existing funding streams so programmes can meet effectively all of their participants’ needs;
- Retaining a separate fund within the UKSPF for employment support. The separate fund should focus on innovative projects that offer work opportunities and skills development to disadvantaged groups (for example, disabled people) in areas of clear economic and social need.
- Ensuring flexibility of local funding mechanisms for both longer-term (with funding cycles of at least seven years, as in the current fund) and short-term programmes; and
- Reducing overall bureaucracy for providers enabling them to focus on what really matters: value for money, building understanding of “what works” in employment support, and fostering new entrants.
It believes that these features are vital to the success of a replacement fund and would also show that the Government is committed to joined-up policymaking and breaking down silos. The Committee recommends that the Department responds to its report by setting out how it will meet these objectives, with a timetable for doing so.
source ukfundraising 05.04.18