Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Community Development Foundation (ERF 05)


  The Community Development Foundation (CDF) is a UK "non departmental public body" supported by the Active Community Unit of the Home Office. Its role is to pioneer, analyse and demonstrate ways of strengthening communities, and to disseminate guidance to policymakers at government and other levels, to professionals working with communities, and to community and voluntary organisations themselves.

  CDF has extensive experience of how European social policy works and has carried out innovative and influential research on the effects of EU funding on local communities both in the UK, in other member states and in accession countries. It is a founding member of the Combined European Bureau for Social Development which produces EU-wide material on participation. Full information about CDF is available from 0207 226 5376, and evidence of its work on European regeneration is among the sources cited below.


  Consideration of the need for a new European regeneration framework provides a timely opportunity to overcome a longstanding source of problems regarding the de facto exclusion of most community and voluntary organisations (NGOs) from access to EU funding. This problem is particularly acute in the field of regeneration and applies in all member states and accession countries. In this submission we are concerned both with the effects in the UK and with the implications across the union and for the enlargement process.

  Key EU policy statements (such as Agenda 2000 on which the current period of the Structural Funds is based) make clear that the EU wants to be "as close as possible to the citizen", to encourage "active citizenship" and "widest possible local partnership" and "overcome social exclusion".

  If EU policy on regeneration is to achieve these aims it is essential that its programmes are designed to include the contribution of the broad range of community and voluntary organisations (NGOs) which address these issues. Local NGOs are the bulk of the third sector, the backbone of civil society and the natural vehicle for citizen involvement in public affairs in all countries. Yet in practice EU regeneration programmes exclude participation by the majority of these organisations. This is a message that can be heard in various forms from all over the EU and accession countries.

  The main causes of the problem are the apparent requirement that virtually all individual projects supported by EU programmes have to have a labour market objective.

  One has to speak of this as an "apparent" requirement because it is not always clear at what level of decision-making the requirement is laid down in each case. There are a number of programmes which are explicitly targeted at job creation, training for employment or improving employability but there are also a number which are about social inclusion and local development which are not necessarily about the labour market. Yet numerous local NGOs which have important contributions to make in these spheres, whether under Objectives 1, 2 or 3 or the smaller programmes find their proposals rejected on the grounds that they do not have labour market objectives.

  It is difficult to pin down firmly the justification for these decisions because the EU does not maintain any kind of overview of the level of NGO participation in its programmes but it appears to be a combination of three factors:

  1.  The belief, amongst policy-makers, advisers and evaluators, that the entire Structural Fund programme is necessarily about the labour market and that this has to be carried through into every local project supported by it.

  2.  The belief that the terms "regeneration", "social inclusion" "local development" and even "third sector" are (only or primarily) economic terms.

  3.  Lack of understanding by some policy-makers and officials at EU and sometimes at government or local level of the broad and vital role of community and voluntary organisations (NGOs) in regeneration and social development.

  If the policies governing the Structural Funds are traced back to the Treaty of Europe, the establishment of the Funds and their modification through the various EU summits and documents, it is found that the ambiguity as to whether the Funds are solely economic instruments runs right through the discourse.

  Much of the ambiguity hinges on the meaning of "social" in the perennial phrase "social and economic". The very fact that "social" is added to "economic" in this phrase which is the pillar of so much EU policy indicates that it is not simply a variant of the term "economic" itself. Yet this is how it is treated in the administration of most of the EU policies governed by it. Logically one would expect that a combination of "social" and "economic" factors would result in programmes consisting of some social, some economic and some social-and-economic projects. In fact there are almost no projects which are purely or primarily social, eg improvement of local conditions per se, improvement of living conditions for the 35+ per cent of the adult population who are outside the labour market, improvement in the delivery of public services. Almost the only projects which get support in these areas are those which offer to tackle these issues via improving access to the labour market. In other words there are, under the Structural Funds, economic projects and social-and-economic projects but no social projects.

  Because the final operation of the Funds is negotiated separately for each member and accession state, and to some degree separately for each region within the states, through a chain of decision-making involving a variety of different levels and officials, it is difficult to say how far this constricted intrpretation is determined from the "top" or how far the ambiguity is deliberate (in order to allow some flexibility) but is inadvertently thwarted by widespread economistic assumptions and ignorance about the role of the NGO sector. Once the assumption becomes embedded that a certain Fund is about the labour market, operational documents will reflect this, as will the selection of departments and specialists to administer it, assumptions will be consolidated and the message arriving at the "coal face" will appear to be fixed.

  That the programmes are not entirely monolithic is demonstrated by the fact that specific programmes in specific regions in different countries have occasionally "bucked the trend" by finding ways to include genuinely wide NGO participation, achieved by the building up of a more flexible understanding between the specific stakeholders and officials in that case. Yet economistic narrowness remains the norm.

  The result at local level (where all programmes ultimately either succeed or fail) is that the vast majority of local NGOs contributing to local development and combating social exclusion do not think they are relevant to or eligible for EU regeneration schemes because job creation is not one of their main objectives.

  These observations, based on dialogue with local practitioners in a wide variety of EU and accession countries, were demonstrated objectively in research on a large European Social Fund project in 2000. "Volcaan" was a project within the short-lived UK "ESF Priority 4 on capacity building and community development," 1997-2000, one of the few programmes to attempt a specific widening-out of EU funding access to the NGO sector as a whole. NGOs across Norfolk were found to be addressing the usual huge range of social issues: health, mental health, disability, counselling, arts, leisure, education, women, childen, families, elderly, carers, housing, homelessness, transport, environment, faith groups, charity and general social purposes. Research showed that only a tiny proportion of these organisations regarded job creation or labour market issues as one of their main concerns. The vast majority had therefore had no connection, nor seen any potential connection, between their work and EU programmes. A small minoriy of NGOs, such as training organisations and employment projects, did have objectives about the labour market, and some of these were successfully accessing EU funding.

  By any sensible measure, the majority of NGOs are highly relevant to local development and social inclusion. Yet because of the assumption running through EU funding that the labour market is virtually the exclusive key to regeneration and social inclusion, the great majority of the NGO sector is being left out of the picture.

  This reality is obscured by the fact that a segment of the NGO sector which is labour market oriented has been remarkably successful in parts of the UK (but rarely in other member states or accession countries) in accessing some parts of EU funding and getting "a seat at the table" in the relevant decision-making arenas. This is a success story from which much could be learned, and some of the organisations involved have played a significant role in widening access for NGOs which have been able and willing to adapt their objectives into labour market terms.

  An added irony in the situation is that a large number of the "non labour market" NGOs are in fact producing benficial labour market by-products. Three quarters of "non labour market" NGOs in the Norfolk research were serving, among others, unemployed and unwaged people, had unemployed or unwaged people doing voluntary work for them and thought that this experience would be likely to improve those people's employability.

  This tendency for all social concepts however broad to "default" to an economistic bias in EU funding is illustrated by the treatment of "social capital". Outside the EU funding context, social capital means trust, co-operation and social networks—the very stuff of community and voluntary organisations' work. It is used in this sense in policies and funding programmes of the World Bank and the DFID, and a vigorous world-wide debate on it is taking place. In 1998 the EU set up a supposedly experimental programme on "Local Social Capital", with two or three pilot projects in each member state, specifically to widen funding access to local NGOs. The definition of local social capital appeared at the start quite reasonably to include, but not be limited to, labour market projects. As the programme has proceeded the interpetation has progressively narrowed so that in effect only labour market projects have been validated, thus not only reducing this "experimental" programme to a replication of the existing EU mainstream but making the term social capital virtually meaningless in the EU policy context.

  This reductionist tendency in EU policy is causing no little dismay amongst NGOs in the accession countries. On the one hand the involvement of NGOs is often encouraged as evidence of the EU's interest in promoting democracy, human rights and citizen involvement. On the other hand, when NGOs attempt to become practically involved many find that (in addition to certain bureaucratic difficulties) their role is only recognised if it has a labour market objective.

  Underlying the operatonal problem is the fundamental problem of the longstanding tendency of the EU to see economic policy as virtually a "single-handed" solution to the problem of regeneration and social exclusion. UK domestic policy on regeneration, particularly in the last few years, has been more holistic and innovative, in such programmes as the New Deal for Communities, Neighbourhood Renewal and Community Strategies, but the principles of these models do not appear to have been carried into the European arena . The UK is in a position to play a positive role in promoting a wider concept of regeneration from which all countries would benefit.


  We would propose that the UK government should urge the EU to take the following actions:

  1.  Adopt a new, more holistic interpretation of regeneration, balancing the roles of the public, private and NGO sectors, and balancing labour market and non labour market factors, thus providing ample scope for contributions by NGOs working on non labour market objectives.

  2.  Guide the 2003 interim evaluation of the Structural Funds programmes to look at levels of broad NGO participation in current programmes, and to make recommendations to the individual programmes aimed at overcoming obstacles to broad NGO participation in the remaining 2003-06 Structural Fund period.

  3.  Create specific streams in each programme area to support local NGOs in their authentic roles free of any required connection to the labour market (though there will in fact be numerous spontaneous by-product effects of benefit to the labour market).

  4.  Survey periodically the level of participation in EU processes of the broad NGO sector, including small community groups and non-labour market-oriented organisations and publish regular information this.

  5.  Re-examine the use of the term "social capital" in EU programmes and bring it into line with the World Bank definition.

  We would also propose that the UK government should review lessons and experiences from its domestic regeneration programmes which could assist in this reorientation of the European regeneration framework and disseminate them through European channels.

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