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How to get your hands on the ESIF’s 6 billion euros (or some of it)

10 key things your charity needs to know about the new elements of the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) 2014-2020 Growth Programme.

The ESIF brings together the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and a small part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and they will provide over 6 billion euros worth of funding for England during the period 2014-2020.


Find out what the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are for

In general terms, the ESIF priorities for the UK are:

  • improving labour market and education policies;
  • reducing the risk of social exclusion;
  • promoting research investment and the competitiveness of the business sector; and
  • promoting an environmentally friendly and resource-efficient economy.

The ERDF is mainly accessed by businesses, universities, social enterprises and for infrastructure investment. ESF is about people and will be used for activities relating to employment, for example through training and lifelong learning, education and social inclusion. The EAFRD will support the Rural Development Programme for England.

You can find more information in the UK-wide Partnership Agreement and in the operational programmes detailing priorities and activities for funding. 


Understand how the funds will be managed

In England, the managing authorities are the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). 

In terms of overseeing the development of the Programme, there is a National Growth Programme Board (GPB) where there are currently two seats for the voluntary sector.

The Board will be supported by 39 LEP-area ESIF Committees to advise on local policy and operational matters.  Each 39 local ESIF committee will have at least one representative from the voluntary sector.


Access the dedicated funding for social inclusion

A new requirement of the ESF is that 20% of the fund will be spent on social inclusion and combatting poverty activities. Social inclusion work often needs the involvement of grassroots organisations that can engage with the most disadvantaged in society. This means that small, voluntary and community organisations that are known for their impact in this field will be able to access the ESF.  

Big Lottery is planning to provide match funding worth around £250 million for projects relating to social inclusion activities, in particular on improving employability for the most disadvantaged, helping those with multiple and complex needs, and improving financial literacy.  Find out more about the Big Lottery’s Building Better Opportunities Programme.


You can use different ESIF funds for the same projects

In this new Programme you will be able to use the ESF and the ERDF together. Or you may want to use the ESI funds with other EU funding sources, for example with the research fund Horizon 2020 or with a European Investment Bank loan. To explore how this will work, download the guidance for enabling synergies between ESIF and other EU funds.


Discover new opportunities via Community-led Local Development (CLLD)

A new term in the ESIF, CLLD will be used for smaller projects initiated by local groups in smaller geographical and highly deprived areas for marginalised groups and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Other opportunities for voluntary and community organisations working with the very disadvantaged will be via the ‘ESF Community Grants’– these are small grants of around £15k for VCS organisations to help the most disadvantaged gain skills and move closer to the labour market. Note that these will only be available in some areas.

Look at your local strategy to see if CLLD and community grants are included.


There’s even more funding and a strong focus on youth

For areas with high youth unemployment, there will be additional funding available from the Youth Employment Initiative. This means that London, Merseyside, Tees Valley and Durham, and West Midlands will get up to £42 million additional funding. Other areas that will also receive smaller allocations from the YEI are Hull, Leicester, Nottingham and Thurrock. Find out more about the YEI.


Know where to look for funding opportunities

Calls will be published either

  • on the Managing Authorities website - Any potential applicant needs to register on the DCLG LOGASnet system before they can submit any applications.


  • via the ‘Opt-in’ organisations’ own dedicated portals (expected from June 2015 onwards). The Opt-in organisations are the Big Lottery – for social inclusion, the Department for Work and Pensions - for employment, the Skills Funding Agency – for skills, apprenticeships and training and the National Offender Management Service - for offenders and ex-offenders. Applying via the opt ins means that you will not need to find your own match funding.

In all cases, your project will need to be able to demonstrate how it addresses the priorities set out in your local LEP-area strategy

Smaller voluntary and community organisations should be aware that grants and contracts sizes may be large and, therefore, you may want to consider accessing the ESIF at sub-contracting level or join forces with other organisations to form a larger consortium. 


You can use volunteer time as match funding

Any organisation receiving ESIF funding must be able to provide a similar amount (match) from their own funding sources. This match funding can come from private contributions or government grants. You can match the EU fund by using staff time in kind and for the first time in England, it has been agreed that in exceptional circumstances for ESF projects, volunteer time will be eligible as match.  


The EU Code of Conduct on Partnership will be your new best friend

Thanks to the European Code of Conduct on Partnership, the voluntary sector is a key partner in the ESIF and should be involved in planning, implementation, evaluation and monitoring of the funds. 


This programme will be simpler

We all know that EU funding is renowned for its overwhelming bureaucracy, but here are a few new approaches designed to simplify the process in this Programme:

  • Simplified cost options (the UK government has not yet confirmed but they are exploring using flat rates and standardised unit costs)
  • There is a common set of rules for all the ESI funds.
  • Where projects draw on more than one fund, it will be managing authorities who will deal with the complexity of aligning them – one project will be mean one application form.
  • The programme will be fully digitalised and you will be able to apply for everything using an online application system.

All of this in practice should mean less bureaucracy for voluntary organisations but only time will tell whether these improvements will make a difference to applicants.               

Further information

There is a wealth of information for charities on the European Funding Network website.
Go to the Government’s dedicated website on the ESIF –

Glossary on the ESIF 2014-2020
On twitter, follow @EUfundingNCVO and @esif1420england
See useful blog posts on the European Social Fund

European Social Fund


Page last edited May 24, 2017 History

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