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ESF FAQs

Below are a list of commonly asked questions and answers regarding the European Social Fund (ESF). If you need more information, please do get in touch by emailing info@gcgp.co.uk.

This page will be updated as new information becomes available.

How long is the programme?

EU funding runs in seven-year cycles. This programme runs from January 2014 to December 2020.

Can a project be comprised of 100% ESF money?

No. Some ESF funds have opt-in partners (Department for Work and Pensions, Skills Funding Agency and Big Lottery Fund) who have provided match funding. If there is no opt-in partner then project applicants will need to provide or source at least 50% of the project costs before the ESF can match fund the project.

Where can and can't match funding come from?

It can be in the form of public or private cash, staff-time or contributions in kind, though the latter can pose difficulties. Match funding cannot be from another EU funding stream. Similarly, the match cannot also be used to match fund another EU project. Unpaid voluntary work may be eligible as match funding in kind. The ESF guidance match funding can be accessed here.

Which comes first, the ESF contribution or the match?

ESF considers itself to be “the funder of last resort” and your ESF application will need to provide evidence that you have already provided, or have successfully secured, your match funding.

Can ESF be used to extend a project or activity?

Not directly. ESF, like most external funding, needs to demonstrate added value. This is sometimes referred to as additionality. Projects should ideally be new or innovative or, at the very least, should be able to clearly show what added benefit or activity is happening as a result of ESF investment. A previous project or activity may have identified a gap in provision and this may be filled by a follow-on project but the application would need to clearly show the additionality. This benefit will need to reflect the aims of the ESF programme and also the aims of the LEP.

How do I know what these aims are?

Details can be found in GCGP’s European Structural and Investment Funds Strategy (commonly known as the ESIF Strategy), this is referred to as the LEPs ESIF Strategy in some documentation here.

Details can also be found in the LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan (known as the SEP) here.

It advisable that both the ESIF Strategy and SEP are read prior to considering whether your project aligns with the requirements of the GCGP’s ERDF allocation in your chosen LEP area(s).

The scale of project, along with specific aims and outcomes will be detailed in the call templates when they are released. Please read these carefully and ensure your project can address them before applying.

How big does my project have to be?

We hope that the open calls we publish will not have a minimum project value specified, however they will state the total value of ESF funding available.

As an applicant, you need to be realistic about what you can achieve, how much match funding you have (or can secure) and what level of staff resource you have to successfully deliver a project.

Please bear in mind that value for money will be a key factor in determining whether your project will secure funding. In short, the more you ask for, the more you will be expected to deliver.

Do I need to have partners?

The programme encourages partnership working. Partners can potentially provide expertise, staff resources and match funding. Partnerships can apply for ESF funding providing they are constituted as a legal entity.

Alternatively, and more conventionally, one member of a partnership can act as a lead partner on behalf of a partnership bid (and will be the accountable body for claims and investment, etc.). A partnership can help to share the administrative and delivery duties, especially if the project is a particularly large one.

Unlike Interreg or the Territorial Co-operation programmes, there is no requirement for partners to be drawn from other EU countries.

Who is eligible to apply?

Applicants can come from the public, private or third sector.

Who makes the decisions regarding funding?

The final decision resides with the Managing Authority, which is the Department for Work and Pensions.  They will receive applications and assessment them for technical compliance.

An evaluation report will then be sent to the local ESIF Committee who will comment on the strategic fit with the ESIF Strategy and SEP for their LEP area.

What are the principles behind ESF investment?

The ESF is Europe’s main instrument for supporting jobs, helping people get better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens. It works by investing in Europe’s human capital – its workers, its young people and all those seeking a job.

What are the priorities for ESF investment in the LEP areas?

Our ESF allocation reflects an equal split between skills and employment (40% each), the two core planks of ESF delivery, and the required spend on social inclusion (20%).The GCGP ESIF Strategy provides the detail on these priority areas.

Is this money capital or revenue?

The money is predominantly revenue. Whilst there will be some capital available, it will not generally be used for large infrastructure projects.  It should be noted that capital can now match revenue and vice versa in this programme.

What sort of activity will the programme support?

Any project will need to be able to demonstrate a clear economic rationale and measurable benefits and be in-line with the Operational Programme, which is available here.

The two Priority Axes within the GCGP ESIF Strategy are:

PA 1 – Inclusive Labour Markets

PA 2 – Skills for Growth

Under Priority Axes 1 there are 4 investment priorities:

  • 1 Access to Employment for Job-Seekers and Inactive People
  • 2 Sustainable Integration of Young People
  • 4 Active Inclusion
  • 5 Community-Led Local Development

Under Priority Axes 2 there are 2 investment priorities:

  • 1 Enhancing Equal Access to Lifelong Learning
  • 2 Improving the Labour Market Relevance of Education and Training Systems

The call document may be more specific regarding the activity required in response to a particular call.

Outputs and result targets?

The ESF programme has targets (also known as outputs and result targets) that need to be achieved. These are negotiated with the EU and are the basis on which EU funding is available to each LEP area. Any project wishing to be funded from the ESF programme needs to be able to demonstrate that it can achieve the outputs detailed in the call document. Examples of the outputs and result targets are listed below and reference should be made to the call document for those applicable:

Unemployed participants into employment (including self-employment) on leaving

Participants gaining basic skills

Participants in employment, including self-employment, 6 months after leaving

Participants (below 25 years of age) in employment, including self-employment, or education/ training upon leaving

Number of supported micro, small and medium sized enterprises (including cooperative enterprises, enterprises of the social economy)

Participants gaining level 2 or below or a unit of a level 2 or below qualification (excluding basic skills)

Small and Medium Enterprises successfully completing projects (which increase employer engagement; and/or the number of people progressing into or within skills provision)

The definitions and guidance on outputs and results targets can be found here.

Is it a quick process?

No, the call document will give the full timetable for the application process. This will include the process for the Managing Authorities assessment of your application and the ESIF Committees input.

If you make a successful application you will go on to sign a funding agreement for the project.

It is important to bear this timetable in mind when developing your application, securing match funding (especially if it is time limited) and planning the project delivery.

Once approved, do we then receive the money?

No. The programme, like many sources of external funding, works on the principle of defrayed expenditure.

This means that money must be spent and claimed back from the ESF programme, on a quarterly basis or potentially a monthly basis but ensure you can cash flow your project on a quarterly in arrears basis. As with the timescale for approval, it is important to bear this in mind when planning your project.

From whom do I claim the money back?

The lead applicant or accountable body will contract with the Managing Authority.  They will repay eligible monies invested as part of an ESF project.

Can I claim back any money that I have spent prior to the project being approved that will inform the project?

No. Only spend that happens once your project has been approved can be considered eligible. Any costs that are incurred prior to this cannot be ESF-supported.

What checks are carried out during the project that I need to be aware of?

Throughout your ESF project various types of audits will be performed therefore you need to ensure you have factored in time and resources to facilitate these, and have robust processes in place to record, monitor and analyse your delivery performance against internal, ESF and legal obligations. Be careful during your application process to factor in appropriate time and resource to this activity. We recommend talking to existing ESF funded projects to learn from their experience.

Who can explain the complexity in layman’s terms?

It can seem very complicated, but there are ESF Facilitators based at the LEP who can help you throughout the process. There is a wealth of expertise and experience within GCGP in developing and delivering ESF projects both in this and in previous funding programmes. Ultimately though you will need to seek professional, independent advice for your specific project with regard to eligibility, potential legal issues and technical compliance.

What calls have been issued to date?

Information on Closed calls in the GCGP area can be accessed here.

Information on Live calls in the GCGP area can be accessed here.

ESF Facilitator Details:

GCGP LEP

Joanne Goodall, joanne.goodall@gcgp.co.uk or call 07950 191146