For decades the European Social Fund (ESF) has provided crucial investment for the UK in education, training and employment support, specifically targeting some of the most vulnerable groups through a broad range of programmes and initiatives.

After leaving the European Union, the UK will lose access to the European Social Fund (ESF) worth over €4.9 billion between 2014 and 2020.

It vital this money is replaced and ringfenced to tackle social injustices and deliver a productive and inclusive economy when Britain leaves the EU.

For decades the ESF has provided crucial investment for the UK in education, training and employment support, specifically targeting some of the most vulnerable groups Replacing the fund by at least the current levels is incredibly important if the UK wants to continue supporting people to develop skills and enter or progress in high quality work. 

The Government has committed to establishing the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to replace the ESF and other EU Structural Investment Funds. The UKSPF aims to ‘reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations, once we have left the European Union and EU Structural Funds’.

In July, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire gave a statement setting out the Government’s priorities for the UKPSF. Importantly, the Treasury has guaranteed funding for the current ESF project round even in a ‘no deal Brexit’ scenario. He also committed the Government to consult on the UKSPF in 2018, but this failed to materialise.  

There is still very little public information about the UKSPF and many questions remain unanswered:

• How much funding will be available? 
• Will funding be ringfenced for skills and employment support?
• How will the new fund be administered across the UK?

Despite the success of the fund, leaving the EU provides an opportunity to design a better, world-leading initiative to replace the investment made through ESF. By helping to create a fairer and more inclusive society where all communities have an opportunity to contribute to economic growth, an effectively designed successor fund to ESF will help the UK fulfil its post-Brexit potential.

To support this, ERSA convened a Working Group on EU funding with the NCVO and other experts which set out six design principles to inform the development and delivery of a successor fund. Please click here to download the report.

Prior to the 2017 General Election, ERSA, NCVO, Learning and Work Institute, Association of Colleges, Holex and AELP developed a joint statement which received over 200 signatories in support of the #FutureESF campaign, with a letter in the Daily Telegraph, as well as sector press and social media activity. 

In 2018, ERSA requested an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee and spoke at the Committee’s one-day inquiry into the future of the European Social Fund, along with four frontline ERSA members delivering ESF. The Committee produced a report on the inquiry which received over 150 pieces of coverage, including articles in The Independent, the Local Government Chronicle and FE Week.

In Summer 2018, ERSA and NCVO wrote to the Prime Minister seeking assurances the UKSPF will provide adequate funding for employment, skills and training support for disadvantaged groups and received a response from the Local Growth and Employment Ministers. 

ERSA will continue to lead on the issue over the coming weeks and months, in particular, to highlight the urgency of replacing ESF and designing an improved future initiative.