ERDF has £800m left to unlock. But can you find the key?
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has been – and with £800m left to invest, still is – a major source of economic development investment in the UK regions.
However, Regeneris Consulting have recently completed midterm reviews of regional ERDF programmes with reports at intervals between summer 2010 and autumn 2011, and have suggested that ‘ERDF is at the Crossroads’.
So, if you’re looking to take advantage of that funding, finding the key to unlocking it is essential. And we can help.
According to the programme reviews, the current English regional ERDF programmes (2007-13) are rapidly moving into a critical make or break phase and they only have two more years to invest what is still a significant amount of uncommitted money. The ERDF programmes have experienced very tough operating conditions having navigated their way ‘through an intense recession’, which has ‘fundamentally changed economic opportunities’.
The reviews report that business growth and job creation objectives have been hit particularly hard, as well as those for capital development in light of historically weak commercial property markets. Uncertainty about the short and medium term economic growth prospects suggests the recessionary backdrop may even outlive the programmes.
According to the findings, the challenge, looking forward, is not going to get any easier, especially as two additional factors are now being added to the mix:
1) Severe pressure on public sector funding: measures to reduce the UK’s budget deficit will curtail the amount of match funding that is available for current and future investments
2) Loss of driving strategic focus: Regional Development Agencies provided the lion’s share of match funding during the first phase. They also provided vital technical and policy advice to ensure quality and maintain momentum in the approval process.
The findings also highlight that:
1. there will be less money around to match ERDF investment
2. what money is available will be in smaller pots
3. the guiding help needed by projects to unlock the money will be more difficult to find
However, with £800 million of funding still available to be contracted, the overall message is very clear: ERDF has money to invest.
But unlocking that investment isn’t going to be straightforward. Why? Because the review outcomes also highlight that ‘new approaches are required to maximise this opportunity’.
Their recommendation is that programmes will need to overcome the widely held perceptions that ERDF is difficult, if they are to step up the pace. The findings highlight that there is no getting around some of the complexities of ERDF but they are surmountable and there are clear signs of renewed interest (partly due to other opportunities falling away). The challenge is to turn this interest into viable, compliant, eligible, quality projects which align with programme objectives and generate economic impact!
A specialist funding service like ours can help with the vital guidance and operational support that projects need to unlock the money and hold onto it – which is even more important given that the new CLG approach means less support will be available from regional teams to help projects.
Here at Ascend Twentyone, we have the necessary skills and experience to help applicants to work through issues of eligible activity, apportionment, output definitions, match funding etc to ensure projects comply with ERDF and its complex rules.
Changes to programme management arrangements also mean a greater role for LEPs, universities and local authorities. Ascend Twentyone can offer support to programme Management across the UK to provide the strategic focus for the programmes and generate a flow of new projects. We can also help provide vital technical and policy advice to ensure quality in the approval process.
Finally, the review revealed that the 2007-13 English regional ERDF programmes got off to a slow start because of the shift in responsibilities between regional government offices and RDAs. And that can only mean one thing: ‘unless the final two years are marked by a greater sense of momentum, the next round of programmes will fall into the same early pitfalls’.
With that in mind, it makes sense to act now if you want to unlock ERDF funding for your project. So whether you’re looking to secure a project or you’re responsible for Programme Management, we can help, guide and support you towards investing in some of the significant amount of uncommitted money available. Get in touch now and make the most of our experience – and our advice.