The European Social Fund (ESF) is one of the EU's Structural Funds, set up to reduce differences in prosperity and living standards across EU Member States and regions, and therefore improving employment opportunities in the European Union and promoting economic and social cohesion.
The ESF is devoted to promoting employment in the EU. It helps Member States make Europe's workforce and companies better equipped to face new, global challenges. In short:
- Funding is spread across the Member States and regions, in particular those where economic development is less advanced.
- It is a key element of the EU's 2020 strategy for Growth and Jobs targeted at improving the lives of EU citizens by giving them better skills and better job prospects.
- Over the period 2007-2013 some €75 billion will be distributed to the EU Member States and regions to achieve its goals.
For further information about ESF please visit: ESF – Europa
ESF in the UK
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.
ESF funds are distributed through public agencies such as the Skills Funding Agency, DWP and National Offender Management Service (NOMS). These agencies are known as 'Co-financing Organisations'. 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.
For further information about Co-financing agencies in the English regions click here.
ESF Priorities in England
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:
Priority 1: '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
Priority 2: '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.
There are similar priorities in the Convergence area of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly where about £50 million of ESF money is available to tackle barriers to employment, and £80 million of ESF money to improve the skills of the local workforce in 2007-2013.
Applying for ESF in England
Any public, private or third sector organisation that is legally formed, and able to deliver ESF provision can apply for ESF funding in England. The programme is available mainly through two different streams, Co-financing and Global Grants. Normally ESF provides up to 45% of the costs of a project. The remainder called 'match funding' has to come from other sources. Co-Financing means channelling both ESF money and required match funding to providers in a single funding stream. Bodies that do that will be called Co-financing organisations (CFOs).
CFOs make ESF available through a process of open and competitive tendering. If you are successful you will receive a single stream of funding from the CFO. You do not have to find your own 'match funding' as CFOs are responsible for both the ESF and match funding. The Skills Funding Agency, DWP and NOMS are CFOs across the whole of England. A few Regional Development Agencies and local authorities are also Co-financing Organisations. List of Co-financing organizations in England available here.
ESF Community Grants
Community Grants form an integral part of the European Structural Funds and are funded through the European Social Fund (ESF). The purpose of ESF Community Grants enable small Third Sector organisations, which would not otherwise be able to access ESF, to apply for small grants through simplified application arrangements. Community Grants are small grants up to a maximum of £12,000 available to community groups to help develop their skills and capacity to help people in deprived communities into the labour market.
Grants focus on progression towards the labour market but will not duplicate provision that is available through mainstream ESF activity. Grants strengthen the ability of small Third Sector organisations to deliver employment and skills activities to disadvantaged people.
Projects funded by ESF in England
For a showcase of projects and products that illustrate the variety of activities taking place under the 2007–2013 European Social Fund please visit ESF-works. ESF-Works is the showcase and forum for policy and practice lessons from the 2007-2013 ESF programme in England here.