European Social Fund
The European Social Fund (ESF) is designed to improve the skills of the workforce and to help people who have difficulties finding work.
The Skills Funding Agency uses ESF to provide additional investment to support and enhance its mainstream activity, to enable disadvantaged people to access and benefit from employment and skills opportunities.
How is European Social Fund spent?
In the current ESF programme, running from 2007-13, the Skills Funding Agency is responsible for ESF learning provision to the 19+ age group.
It also manages ESF provision for learners aged 14-19, as a shared service for the Education Funding Agency (EFA). A technical document supporting the shared service agreement details specific issues such as match funding, audit and publicity.
For adults, the Skills Funding Agency primarily procures and manages ESF provision that helps to develop a skilled and adaptable workforce in England: to help unemployed people re-enter the labour market; to support individuals with low skills in employment; and to engage with the hardest to reach individuals.
For young people, ESF will support young people aged 14-19 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) and those at risk of becoming so. They will likely be those who face multiple barriers to their participation and need a different type of offer of post 16 provision to engage them in learning and keep them engaged. The main focus of using ESF monies for the period 2011-13 will be in conjunction with the EFA, securing the continued provision of individually tailored packages of education and support, which will enable the engagement of such young people.
What support does European Social Fund offer?
The Skills Funding Agency currently funds five ESF projects to support adults and young people.
- Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW)
- Skills Support for the Unemployed
- Skills Support for Redundancy
- Workplace Learning
- Community Grants
Skills Support for the Unemployed
Skills Support for the Unemployed ensures that capacity is in place to provide skills support to unemployed individuals on benefits who are looking for work but face a skills barrier to entering the labour market. The Agency procures provision which will ensure adults (aged 19 and over) are given the right level of skills and employability support that they need to improve their chances of gaining employment (including starting an Apprenticeship).
This activity is delivered in partnership with the Apprenticeship Grant to Employers, which provides financing support to small employers taking on an apprentice as a progression from Skills Support for the Unemployed (SSU).
To support the administration of Apprenticeship Grant to Employers the Skills Funding Agency has created the following templates for providers to use:
Annex A – Evidence of Job Outcome (4 weeks)
Annex A – Evidence of Job Outcome London contracts only
Annex B – Employer Agreement
Annex C – State Aid Declaration
Skills Support for Redundancy
Skills Support for Redundancy provision ensures that capacity is in place to respond to redundancies and the employment implications of local economic conditions. The Agency procures training opportunities for individuals who are: under consultation or notice of redundancy; have been notified by their employer that they are likely to be directly affected by downsizing or company closure locally; or have recently been made unemployed.
Employed individuals with low skills can benefit from Workplace Learning , which promotes in-work progression through the delivery of work related skills training. The Skills Funding Agency is seeking to fund provision that will raise their level of attainment, enabling individuals to improve their employment status and to move on to undertake higher levels of training.
There should be particular focus on those more vulnerable to future unemployment, with barriers to achieving sustainable employment, such as individuals aged 19-24 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) and who are recently unemployed.
For the ESF Programme in England, the Skills Funding Agency also manages Community Grants. This project provides grants of up to £12,000 to allow small third sector organisations, which would not normally be able to access ESF, through simplified arrangements. These grants support a range of activities that help individuals in the hardest to reach communities to enter the labour market. Community Grants funding must not duplicate provision made available through mainstream ESF activity from the Skills Funding Agency.
A series of grant co-ordinating bodies administer Community Grants for the Skills Funding Agency on a regional basis. They publicise the availability of grants as well as providing support to successful applicants.
In addition to these four main projects, the Skills Funding Agency will also use ESF to contribute additional and enhanced provision to mainstream programmes such as Apprenticeships. ESF will add value by preparing participants with pre-Apprenticeship training and supporting access to and progression within Apprenticeships and other Workplace Learning.
Details of providers with current ESF contracts is available on the Programmes page.
The Skills Funding Agency launched a tender specification to support ESF Priority 2 (which focuses on developing a skilled and adaptable workforce) called Skills Support for the Workforce.
The provision is funded through the 2007-13 ESF Operational Programme and can be delivered until July 2015.
The Skills Funding Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) have developed a new approach to the procurement of this provision, to ensure that successful providers are best placed to address local skills needs.
This includes broader specifications and closer working arrangements with LEPs and Core Cities, and an expectation that providers may want to develop collaborative or other networks to ensure successful delivery. The Agency has twelve specifications available to support each Co-Financing Plan region:
Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW)
We have been undertaking a procurement exercise to deliver skills support for local communities.
For the first time, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have played a vital role in determining the effective use of European Social Funding at a local level. We have worked with all LEP areas to put in place a new offer that supports people to remain and progress in their jobs.
This is a new approach to procurement for us which has been designed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including representation from LEPs, Local Government, the FE sector and Third Sector. The procurement has attracted interest from both new and existing providers and employers. We will inform organisations who submitted tenders of the results on or before the 30th April 2013.
This has been an exciting and challenging journey and we look forward to working with both the LEPs and the successful providers and employers in delivering high quality, high performing programmes.
- The procurement for ESF Skills Support for the Workforce was launched in December 2012.
- The specification covered all 39 LEP areas and was based on local priorities at LEP level to ensure the right focus of delivery.
- The work undertaken through consultation has paved the way for an approach to the procurement and management of ESF that meets the needs of local communities, learners and employers, whilst maintaining the economies of scale provided by the Agency.
- We are committed to working with key stakeholders to meet priorities identified through dialogue with local LEPs and Core Cities.
The Skills Funding Agency will procure ESF funded learning provision using methods such as open and competitive tendering and negotiated funding. The Skills Funding Agency is a co-financing organisation for the ESF in England. As a method of funding, co-financing distributes ESF funds directly to project providers without the need for the providers to use their own funds as match.
The Skills Funding Agency introduced its Register of Training Organisations in January 2012. The Register is a list of organisations that are eligible to be considered for funding from the Chief Executive of Skills Funding (the Agency) to deliver education and training services in England. Providers can find more detailed information about the Register of Training Organisations and its use on the Register page of the Skills Funding Agency’s website.
For 14-19 ESF provision, the Skills Funding Agency acts on behalf of the EFA to secure activity. Details of any future opportunities to deliver 14-19 ESF provision will be advertised via the Skills Funding Agency e-tendering portal. Organisations need to register on the portal in order access the relevant documents.
European Union regulations require all co-financing organisations and projects to actively promote two specific cross-cutting themes during the ESF programme: gender equality and equal opportunities; and sustainable development (which incorporates environmental sustainability).
The Skills Funding Agency and its providers are required to promote these themes throughout the lifetime of the ESF programme. The cross-cutting themes will be subject to monitoring, evaluation and audit. Specific guidance including toolkits on these themes is available from the ESF in England website .
Equality Impact Assessment for European Social Fund (ESF) Specifications 2012-2015
The Equality Impact Assessment is for following three projects we procure as part of the 2007-2013 European Social Fund (ESF) Programme..
- Skills Support for the Unemployed (SSU) and Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE)
- Skills Support for Redundancy (SSR)
- Work Placed Learning (WPL)
As a Co-financing Organisation, the Skills Funding Agency is required to identify an equal amount of public funding from its own budgets as match funding for ESF. The Agency sources this from its mainstream funding contracts, such as Apprenticeships, Adult Skills Budget and 16-18 Apprenticeships.
At the start of each academic year the Skills Funding Agency will notify providers holding mainstream contracts that are used as a source of match funding for ESF. These providers must also adhere to the requirements of the ESF programme for publicity and document retention.
Research and evaluation
The Skills Funding Agency continually monitors performance of the ESF programme in terms of outputs and results. Across the ESF programme as a whole (not just the Skills Funding Agency funded provision), the level of participation by women is lower than expected in learning provision designed for people without work. The Skills Funding Agency commissioned research to identify, collate and critically examine ESF provider strategies that have proven to be successful in engaging with unemployed women. The research is complete and there are two reports available.
Engaging unemployed women in ESF-funded training - Full report
Engaging unemployed women in ESF-funded training: successful approaches and case studies
Previous research on the 2000-06 programme (as the Learning and Skills Council) is also available.
A study on the perceived impacts of ESF funded learning on employability
This report was presented to the European Social Fund Division in June 2011
This is a consolidated evaluation of the LSC and subsequently Skills Funding Agency’s (Agency’s) Co-financing Plans for the European Social Fund Convergence, Competitiveness and Employment Programme 2007-2010, England and Gibraltar.
State Aid is the use of funding from a public body to provide support to an enterprise (any organisation that puts goods or services on the given market) that could potentially distort competition and affect trade in the European Union.
This includes free or subsidised training funded through ESF. Where this support is given to employed individuals, the European Commission sets a maximum financial limit to the level of support that organisations and businesses can receive in a three-year period. This helps to ensure that all companies have equal opportunities in the marketplace.
As a co-financing organisation for ESF, the Skills Funding Agency is bound by European law to comply with these limits and monitor the level of support it gives to individuals employed by small and medium sized enterprises. ESF providers should seek advice and guidance from their Skills Funding Agency Relationship Team.
ESF-Works is a searchable website and multimedia database of ESF projects and products.
A number of case studies for ESF provision secured by the Skills Funding Agency exist to promote good practice and products developed under the 2007-13 programme in England. It offers a wide-ranging and in-depth record of the activities and outcomes of projects and participants.
ESF Operational Programme and Action Notes
The ESF Division (ESFD) of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has overall responsibility for ESF funds in England. The ESFD manages the ESF programme in England and liaises with the European Commission.
The ESF programme in England is governed by the Operational Programme (operating manual). Action Notes are issued by the ESFD to disseminate national policy across all stakeholders, including training providers.
As part of the Agency’s drive towards simplification of the funding system and following consultation with providers and employers, we have revised and consolidated all existing funding guidance into a clear, single set of Funding Rules . Providers delivering either ESF contracts or mainstream contracts for the Skills Funding Agency must adhere to the rules within this document, to ensure compliance with ESF rules and regulations.
ESF External Advisory Group
The purpose of the ESF External Advisory Group is to help the Skills Funding Agency to implement its ESF co-financing work more effectively. Representatives from stakeholder and sector representative groups from providing provide end-to-end external consultancy and advice to the Skills Funding Agency.
Terms of reference for the group are available here (version 2.2).
The Group will also support the Agency on preparations for the 2014-20 Programme.
ESF Programme 2014-20
The Agency is actively supporting ESFD and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills with preparations for the 2014-20 ESF Programme.
Detailed information on the Regulations, Consultation and Programme outline can be found on the 2014-20 section of ESFD's website.