The 2007 to 2013 European Social Fund (ESF) Programme has two primary objectives:
The Convergence Objective aims to develop areas where the economy is lagging behind the rest of the European Union. In England, only Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly benefits from ESF funding under the Convergence Objective.
The Regional Competitiveness and Employment Objective covers all areas outside of the ‘Convergence’ objective. The whole of England is covered by this objective, except Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Within this objective, Merseyside and South Yorkshire benefit from transitional funding as former Objective One regions in 2000-2006.
Since 2000, ESF has been a key part of the EU’s Lisbon strategy for Growth and Jobs. It supports the EU’s goal of increasing employment by giving unemployed and disadvantaged people the training and support they need to enter jobs. By focusing on those most in need of help, it contributes to policies to reduce inequality and build a fairer society. ESF also equips the workforce with the skills needed by business in a competitive global economy.
Each region has an allocation of ESF money to fund projects. Allocations are based on regional employment and skills needs – for example, the numbers of people not in work and who do not have good qualifications. ESF allocations are matched with a similar amount of national funding.
The current programme will invest £5 billion in 2007-2013 of which £2.5 billion will come from the ESF and £2.5 billion will be national funding.
The Programme is focused on five priority areas of activity and underpinned by the two Cross Cutting Themes Environmental Sustainability and Equal Opportunities.
The priorities in the 2007 to 2013 ESF Programme are designed to focus ESF spending on specific activities and to ensure that it reaches people in most need of support. There are two main priorities in England:
‘Extending employment opportunities’. It supports projects to tackle the barriers to work faced by unemployed and disadvantaged people. About £1.5 billion of ESF money is available for this priority in 2007-2013
‘Developing a skilled and adaptable workforce’. It supports projects to train people who do not have basic skills and qualifications needed in the workplace. About £823 million of ESF money is available for this priority in 2007-2013.
In addition, Technical Assistance (TA) funds are available to finance the preparatory, management, monitoring, evaluation, information and control activities of the Operational Programme, together with activities to reinforce the administrative capacity for implementing the funds, at National and Regional levels.
In Priority 1 resources are focused on helping people who are unemployed or have become inactive in the labour market. In particular, it focuses on people who are most likely to face disadvantage or discrimination. Key target groups include:
- Disabled people
- Lone parents
- People aged over 50
- People from ethnic minorities
- People without good qualifications; and
- Young people not in education, employment or training
In Priority 2 resources are focused on people in the workforce who lack basic skills or good qualifications. In particular, it focuses on those who are least likely to receive training. It also supports training for managers and employees in small firms. Priority 2 aims to help people gain relevant skills and qualifications needed for their career progression and for business growth and innovation in the knowledge economy.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has overall responsibility for ESF funds in England. DWP manages the England ESF Programme at a national level and liaises with the European Commission in Brussels. Each region has its own ESF allocation to fund projects to address its regional jobs and skills needs, within the framework of the England ESF Programme.
At the regional level, ESF funds are distributed through ‘Co-Financing Organisations’. In the West Midlands there are three Co-Financing Organisations i) Skills Funding Agency (SFA)/West Midlands Leaders Board (WMLB) ii) DWP (Department of Works & Pensions) iii) NOMS (National Offender Management Service).
Their role is to bring together ESF and domestic funding for Employment and Skills so that ESF complements domestic programmes. The Co-Financing Organisations contract with the organisations or ‘providers’ that deliver ESF projects on the ground.