Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 21 MAY 2003
Q160 Chairman: You would expect them
to be rigorous, so that is not a complaint?
Ms Flanagan: It goes with the
territory, with European funding.
Q161 Chairman: That is helpful. A
final question from me now. What quality of consultation was there
in the creation of the co-financing organisations, were you given
a fair crack of the whip at saying how they should be brought
into being and what their identities should be?
Mr Phillips: We were in regular
contact with Ken Lambert in the Department, who was one of the
chief architects of the programme, and we made lots of points,
which are reflected in the documentation but not necessarily worked
out in practice. We were also invited onto the Fraser associates
review of co-financing. I have been going along to those meetings,
and we have been able to put our points there. In London, we have
been invited by the Government Office to go in on some of the
visitations that were made when applications were made, and we
have helped the London and European Programmes Committee, as a
member, to exercise some sort of oversight of what is going on.
So we have been involved to a considerable degree, but there is
a sense in which it was looking at points of detail rather than
points of principle.
Q162 Chairman: Not to any great effect?
Mr Phillips: A limited effect.
Ms Flanagan: No; our importance
is nothing like as meaningful as it has been previously.
Chairman: That answers the question;
that is a fair and accurate and helpful answer.
Q163 Mr Stewart: I would like to
ask a few questions about the future. As you know, the current
programme finishes in 2006, and the centre of gravity obviously
will be going eastwards, with the ten new accession countries.
What strategy does the voluntary sector have to deal with this
major loss of ESF indeed across the whole of the UK?
Ms Flanagan: Some of the voluntary
sector will have welcomed the opportunity to get closer to the
statutory funding programmes, and perhaps even by their involvement
with statutory funding through co-finance rendered sensitive the
statutory programmes to be able to better address the needs that
they are working with; so that would be one sort of exit strategy.
There is another question around post-2006 which we talked earlier
about, the proportion of the funds that could be used for the
inclusion agenda, and one of the projects that we are working
on is looking at earmarking in the Structural Funds particular
funds for inclusion and developing civic society allied to the
new treaty that is coming out, with references to the need for
a European-wide approach to developing civic society. But I could
not give you an answer which covered all of the range of the perspectives
in the voluntary sector and its exit strategies; that is just
Mr Phillips: I think enlargement
poses a very big challenge for Europe, and it is one that, as
an active member of the Union, we should take on with both hands;
I noticed, in the evidence submitted to you by the Commission
at one of your earlier hearings, that one has to realise the Structural
Funds are a bond for the whole Union, and everybody buys into
that and everybody is looking for support, as a common membership
organisation. My regret is very much that in the Green Paper that
came out on the future of regional policy there was actually no
reference whatsoever to the social inclusion agenda, and at meetings
that have taken place on that there have been apologies for that
not being mentioned. I think that, in a 100-page document, it
is more than an apology that is needed not to have mentioned the
social inclusion agenda. Then to turn and say that the Commission
is not radical enough; and, going back to some of the earlier
discussions we have had, no reference at all to the Frameworks
for Regional Employment and Skills Action, which are key to so
much of the work going on between sectors at a regional level.
So one wonders where a lot of the vision is, in terms of the future,
on the governmental side; on the voluntary sector side, I think
it is a real challenge, because, as we said earlier, we have never
had a big stake in the capital investment that goes on through
the Structural Funds. We are minor players there, if players at
all, where the main contribution has been in the revenue side,
the human resources side. Essentially what is happening with the
Structural Funds is that they are homing in on social inclusion
and the issues of inequality, and the fact of the matter is that
we have become a prosperous but more unequal society, and there
are major issues there that we have got to tackle. We would see
the sector making a major contribution in delivering on that equalising
agenda, and we would expect the Structural Funds to come in, across
Europe, to address this particular agenda.
Ms Love: In Scotland, SCVO have
been looking again at trying to see if the services can actually
be delivered in line and along with public services, on some sort
of commercial basis; and they are also undertaking a survey to
find out exactly how many people, as in real jobs, in the voluntary
sector, are directly involved with ESF funds. The mid-term evaluation
that has been carried out, only some of the drafts are available;
the monitors who came in from the independent consultants, from
the ones that have been made available, have stressed that most
of the projects would not have run had they not had ESF. So there
does appear to be real additionality there. The other part of
the thing is this, when you do your applications in Scotland there
is already an emphasis on seeing in your application how this
is transitional and what your exit strategy is and how you will
actually move through ESF, if it is no longer available.
Ms Turner: From the point of view
of the service provider, already we are worrying about exit strategies,
projects are ending in June and December and, as I said before,
we have people in projects sitting there wondering what is going
to happen after that. We can only hope that the problems that
we had with co-financing are problems of implementation, that
is being ruled out very quickly without perhaps thinking about
what the consequences would have been for certain sectors, and
we hope that these will be addressed, and that the work that the
voluntary sector is doing with certain groups will be able to
continue, perhaps in a different way. If there is no ESF to be
had, obviously, certain projects will exist, but not providing
the added value that ESF can provide.
Q164 Mr Stewart: Do you think there
is an understanding in the voluntary sector, at the coalface,
among ordinary workers in the voluntary sector across the UK,
that there is going to be a big bang, post-2006, in terms of loss
Ms Flanagan: I think, in the organisations
that we are close to, there is a raising awareness, yes, absolutely.
Q165 Mr Stewart: As you will be aware,
the Government has got a consultation out on the future, and what
they are looking at, as I understand it, is really a repatriation
of Structural Funds and regional policy. What is your view of
the opportunities and threats posed by the Government draft policy?
Ms Flanagan: I think Ray addressed
some of these points in what he was saying in the last few minutes
about the use of the Structural Funds after 2006. One of the things
that is extraordinary about European funding is that it is very
long term, if you consider that programmes run for seven years,
more than the Government's term of office, there is a kind of
determination and objectivity about European programmes which
means that they are not the property of particular administrations,
which I think is helpful and useful. And certainly the loss of
that kind of independence, as well as the loss of that social
glue which we have across Europe, as a result of the cohesion
funds and the social funds, from our perspective, and I speak
as a committed European, would be irreplaceable. In terms of the
repatriation of the funds, I think that, again, is a difficult
question for the voluntary and community sector, who will be subject
to Government Office, regions, different layers of analysis of
the needs of regions, as to whether or not that would be very
disadvantageous. I think I am struggling a bit with that one,
but, generally speaking, I think we would be very unhappy about
the loss of funds.
Mr Phillips: As a consortium and
voluntary sector umbrella group we are in contact with about 2,500
organisations that regularly get our newsletters and mailings,
and we work very closely with the regional public authorities
in presenting the case for London, which one of your Members,
Karen Buck, took into the House just a couple of weeks ago. And,
in that, we found common understanding with local authority, regional
and borough level partners about the importance of the Structural
Funds in addressing the urban agenda, and the value that the Funds
have brought to London, as a cityit is very often the tale
of two cities, because there are two cities in London. We are
conscious of the fact that the Structural Funds have provided
a focus for a lot of very important regional work, for decades
now, and that important momentum is worth keeping. We like the
open contact, as a partnership, with the European Union, rather
than a role that would be, in a sense, diluted somewhat in the
repatriation, renationalisation models that are being posited
at the moment.
Q166 Mr Stewart: Ms Love, do you
have anything to add?
Ms Love: Yes. I think on the ground
the local partnerships work really well, so you have local authorities
and Scottish Enterprise or HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise)
and voluntary associations who all come together round the table
to discuss things that perhaps would never actually be discussed
at that kind of working level in any other forum.
Ms Turner: I can only support
what the others have said so far, and certainly the worry that
perhaps the repatriation of Structural Funds will result in the
diluting of a European dimension for this country. I am not sure
whether that would include community initiatives, which certainly
encourage some work, and the voluntary sector has been very active
from this country in working in the emerging voluntary sector
in the eastern and central European countries. So I am not sure
whether that would be lost as well, it would be a sadness.
Q167 Mr Stewart: Ms Flanagan, you
made the point that the advantage of ESF is that it is very important
to skill development, and that it is very necessary to train our
workforce in some skills. There are, of course, great opportunities
for the ten accession countries, and there will be great export
opportunities for the UK to these countries. Are you aware, in
the voluntary sector, anywhere in the UK, of where there can be
training and development of the skills necessary to export to
this tremendous new market that is coming on stream shortly, using
Ms Flanagan: Are you talking about
developing the skills, for instance, with industry that would
export, or are you talking about exporting the skills?
Q168 Mr Stewart: Yes; generally building
up the skills that are necessary to export other people's skills,
or products, to the ten accession countries?
Ms Flanagan: I think it would
be interesting to ask that question of the new Sector Skills Councils,
the voluntary and community sector does not actually have a Sector
Skills Council, sadly, but I think it would be they who would
be preoccupied with delineating the kinds of areas that they would
want to make that investment, in terms of responding to the increased
opportunities available from a broader Union.
Mr Phillips: Bringing it back
specifically to Structural Funds and some of the networking that
the voluntary sector is involved in, back in 1989 we were involved
in setting up, with the support of the European Commission, the
European Anti-Poverty Network (EPAN), which has a Structural Funds
working group that we input into. Over the last ten years a lot
of our experience has been shared around tables with NGOs across
Europe. I think the NGOs have got a very valuable role to play
in the dissemination of experience across Europe into the new
Member States. Enlargement is one of the big issues in front of
EAPN at the moment, and the implications of Structural Funds and
how we can use them as a mechanism to transfer some of the very
good practice that has been discussed is important. We can be
rightly proud that over the years this partnership has been valued
Q169 Mr Stewart: Ms Love, do you
have any experience, in the Scottish context?
Ms Love: We have already had people
across visiting us from Hungary who we are involved with, visiting
both the PME and the voluntary sector, and the local council and
the health board, and they had come over specifically to see if
people from a small area, rather than a sort of larger area, would
be able to help them with establishing their own programme complement,
and how they could probably administer their own funds.
Q170 Mr Stewart: In terms of modelling
with best practice?
Ms Love: Yes.
Ms Flanagan: The best advice I
have given at the moment though is, it is very early in those
countries' development for us to be working with them that closely.
Ms Turner: We had a few examples
of partner organisations in Central and Eastern Europe, where
their voluntary sector is coming along very strongly, and the
governments themselves are very interested that the voluntary
sector develops, where they looked at us for provision of training
for trainers, or development of skills in terms of volunteer management,
how to set up a volunteer centre, and things like that. So that
is happening already in a small way.
Mr Stewart: Thank you very much.
Q171 Chairman: Ms Love, just a parochial
question, finally, from me, and you may not know the answer to
this. Do you get any sense that there is a move in Scotland, and
for all I know in Wales, to think about following our sister organisations
south of the border, in terms of developing a system of co-financing
rather than staying with the one that we have got?
Ms Love: Not at the moment. I
said, there are certain things, like there is a global grant for
going through Objective 3, which is 1% of Objective 3 funding,
which is £4 million, which is co-financed, and it is actually
administered by SCVO. So at the moment you have got something
like 124 small voluntary organisations in Scotland who are drawing
down just about £1 million in direct grants, mostly for capacity-building.
Again, in the Highlands and Islands Special Transitional Programme
area you have got CED
fund, which are co-financed, so that the individual gets 100%,
and a pound of that is public and a pound of that is ESF CED,
or ERDF CED. So there are examples of co-financing; it is not
that it is not done, but it is done in a smaller way.
Q172 Chairman: But there is no sense
of a strategic move to the system, because we think it is better
for us north of the border; is that the view of the voluntary
Ms Love: North of the border,
there is no sense in moving to co-finance.
Q173 Chairman: Are you confident,
and again you might not know the answer to this, that, nevertheless,
we will be able to access and spend and commit all of the funds
that we are entitled to?
Ms Love: I think we are at N+3
already in some ESF areas.
Q174 Chairman: So there is no danger
of an underspend, as far as you are aware?
Ms Love: With ESF, I do not think
there is any danger of an underspend.
Q175 Chairman: If there is an underspend,
it will be Objective 2, rather than anything else?
Ms Love: I do not know so much
about Objective 2, but ESF and Objective 3, I think, are both
well past their targets.
Q176 Chairman: That is good to know.
Is there anything that you think we have missed out that you would
like to leave us with final thoughts of?
Ms Flanagan: Yes; just one point
about the coherence of Government department policy. One of the
things that we have been minded to say in our submission is not
understanding why, on the one hand, we have the Home Office encouraging
the development of capacity-building, and so forth, in the voluntary
and community sector, through the cross-cutting review, and future-builders,
and so on, and encouraging other Government departments to support
that agenda, and then, in other Government departments, like the
DWP, a much narrower focus on the achieving of quite precise training
and employment outcomes. In the DTI we have seen the social economy
transported to social enterprises again, and a narrowing down
of that focus, which does not necessarily make it very hospitable
to the voluntary and community sector development. We are wondering
which Government department we should be believing, in the sense
of if it is about building the sector, or if it is about a sharp
focus on achieving targets and outcomes, in government programmes.
Mr Phillips: If I may come back,
just very briefly, to the DWP itself, within that Department you
have got different teams working on the Social Fund vis-a"-vis
the employment agenda and the issue of National Action Plan on
Social Inclusion, and the sector really would like to see some
"joined-upness" there. And the very useful role of technical
assistance in building up what we have been talking about today
in the sector, that sort of technical assistance role needs to
be taken across into the work that is going on around the Social
Inclusion Action Plan. I know those discussions are going on at
the moment, and I know that when you put this issue of technical
assistance to some officials in the DWP they just do not know
what you are talking about, and it seems crazy.
Chairman: Ladies and gentlemen, that
has been really very useful for us. I think you have given us
a lot to think about, and we will get a chance to pose some of
these questions directly to the Minister and his team of advisers
when he comes, and I hope we will get some sensible answers which
lead to positive recommendations that try to help and assist with
the valuable work that you continue to do, day in and day out,
on our behalf, and thank you very much for that. Thank you very
much for your appearance.
31 Community Economic Development. Back