Government must seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve funding for education, training and employment support for the most vulnerable groups in society when the UK leaves the EU, a cross-sector working group has said. 

The group convened by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) today published proposals for a successor to the European Social Fund (ESF) that it said would help boost productivity and create a fairer and more inclusive society. 

The ESF provides investment in education, training and employment support and has led to significant positive employment and skills outcomes for disadvantaged groups across the UK. Between 2007 and 2013 the UK benefited from €8.6 billion (approx. £7.7bn) in ESF funding, including national match-funding. A further €3.5bn (approx. £3.1bn) has been allocated to the UK for 2014-2020.

The group calls on the government to commit no less than existing levels of ESF funding to a successor fund to ensure communities not reached by mainstream public services continue to be supported.  

The paper identifies a set of six design principles for a successor initiative which will help to advance the government’s industrial strategy and tackle the skills gaps and productivity challenges highlighted in this month’s Autumn Statement:

1. Taking a holistic approach and promoting integration between health, wellbeing and employment services

2. Basing delivery on a multi-sectoral partnership approach designed around people

3. Fostering innovation and involving new actors in the design and delivery processes

4. Including programmes with a mix of short-term and long-term funding to ensure both flexibility and stability 

5. Supporting a quicker process to identify need and allocate funds

6. Ensuring ease of access for providers of all sizes and sectors

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:

‘The European Social Fund has had a significant impact on the ability of vulnerable groups to fulfil their potential, participate in society and contribute to economic growth. Failure to replace it would have serious consequences, not just for the support disadvantaged groups receive, but also for inclusive growth and social cohesion in the UK. 

‘With the UK poised to leave the European Union, the government now has a unique opportunity to improve the design and delivery of employment and skills funding. This is why NCVO and ERSA have brought together experts in learning, skills and employment
provision to develop a framework for a successor fund that helps our nation achieve its post-Brexit potential.’ 

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said:

‘We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that every part of society can share in our post-Brexit future. It is crucial that we not only safeguard the vital investment in education, training and employment support which ESF currently provides, but that we improve on it with a new initiative which helps to tackle the social injustices set out in the government’s manifesto.

‘Through this, we know that specialist providers can help more people than ever before, engage with communities more effectively and get more money to the frontline. That is why we are leading this cross-sector group with NCVO to help build a brighter, more productive and inclusive economy.’