Making it work: the European Social Fund - European Union Committee Contents


Memorandum by the Convergence Partnership Office for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

INTRODUCTION

  1.  This evidence is written from the perspective and experience of the Convergence Partnership Office for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly with the responses reflecting this and focussing on those areas where the partnership has direct experience.

  2.  The Convergence Partnership Office has been established by the ERDF and ESF Convergence Partnership to act as the cohesive voice of the two programmes and to deliver their communication and public relations activity. The Convergence Partnership Office acts an umbrella for all partners involved—public, private and voluntary and community sectors—helping ensure a common ownership of the mission of the programmes.

  3.  The background to the use of ESF Convergence in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is outlined in Annex 1.

RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS

Objectives and funding—What is your view of the current objectives of the European Social Fund? Does the available funding align with those objectives? How appropriate do you consider the balance of projects funded by the ESF to be (for example the volume of projects designed to increase the adaptability of workers as compared to those designed to reinforce the social inclusion of disadvantaged people)?

  4.  People are at the core of economic regeneration no matter where we are in the economic cycle—in the present economic climate pro-active help for people is more important than ever. European programmes (in particular European Social Fund Convergence) are helping address the increasingly acute skills and employment needs of individuals in these testing economic conditions.

  5.  The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Jobcentre Plus (JCP), guided by the locally derived ESF Convergence framework are both working hard to ensure that the provision meets the needs of the local areas concerned.

  6.  In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly the objectives of ESF meet the needs of the area and we have the balance right with Priority 4 c40% and Priority 5 c60% of the €196 million available. Importantly with the ability in Priority 5 to support higher level skills, research, and graduate placements which are all so important in meeting the Leitch targets and developing a skills profile for a modern economy.

What has been your experience with the operating rules of the ESF? What has worked well? What problems have you encountered and how might the process be improved?

  7.  Broadly we have found that the mix of co-financing and direct bids to Government Office for the South West (GOSW) for the HE investments, to work well. Through strong partnership working we have successfully integrated Co-Financing Organisations' strategies. However differences in details and models of tendering between the co-financers means that models for delivery on the ground are very different and vary in transparency and integration of activity. This delivery needs the careful monitoring by GOSW. One issue that has arisen is that national responses to the economic downturn have meant greater flex in mainstream delivery and that the additionality of ESF needs constant monitoring. This may require changes in future contracting arrangements to ensure that this additionality is maintained as we do not know how the economy will perform over the period to 2015 and the situation is bound to vary both over time and geography necessitating ongoing flexibility in delivery.

  Moving forwards ESF must be used to prepare for the upturn i.e. ESF is a means to success not just a response to the present problems and contracts will need to reflect this duality as well as the uncertainty of time and geography.

How effective do you consider the ESF to be? How is that effectiveness being monitored? And how is that information on effectiveness being shared and used?

  8.  We have established and successful mechanisms for the co-ordination of approach between the Regional Employment and Skills Board (RESB), GOSW and the co-financing organisations.

  9.  The individual delivery partners are encouraged to work with and push beyond mainstream delivery to ensure that there is clear additionality in delivery.

  10.  However, to ensure that the effectiveness of ESF is maintained, commissioning and procurement needs to be clearly informed by local evidence of need as well a national policy direction. (The variable impact of the economic downturn across the UK is testament to this.) More regionally based or informed commissioning and procurement would ensure that this effectiveness was explicitly built into the process. Similarly the need for active management of effectiveness, particularly in the present economic climate, goes well beyond the necessities of contract management and the active local involvement of the co-financing organisations is vital—for example the Department for Work and Pensions' localisation agenda has a key role to play in this. Nationally driven procurement tends to limit the choice of delivery that is available in peripheral rural economies such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and means that nuanced knowledge of local labour markets and skills needs is limited. This is not the best platform from which to deliver what is vital public sector intervention in the labour market.

How successfully have national and regional administrations worked together in delivering the ESF, where appropriate?

  11.  To date this has worked, particularly through the role of the RESB, the development of the ESF Convergence Framework, and the co-ordination of activity between JCP and LSC. But this needs to be actively worked at the local level as inevitably there are strong national steers within these organisations. This is needed to ensure that local needs, both of the workforce and in the development of skills base for the future, are always visible to the centre. Local evidence of need must be actively melded into national policy to ensure local delivery with real impact.

How useful has the ESF been as a tool to respond to the financial crisis? How might its usefulness in responding to the current crisis be improved, and how might it be amended to ensure that it is able to respond more effectively to a changing economic climate in the future?

  12.  For the 2007-10 period there is already £83 million worth of ESF Convergence activity (out of a total of £153 million) on the ground in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—mainly being delivered in conjunction with LSC and JCP. There are also some direct delivery contracts with Government Office for the South West (GOSW) for example Unlocking Cornish Potential which place graduates with local businesses.

  13.  Thanks to the falling value of sterling against the € over the last 18 months—there is now additional investment to support people in the economy. This, alongside existing ESF and mainstream provision, is being specifically targeted to help those people on who the economic downturn will have the biggest impact—those being threatened with and being made redundant. This extra investment amounts to an additional £10 million in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This extra help includes specialist help for those not used to job seeking as well as help for those who will find it even more difficult to get employment when the numbers of those looking for work exceed vacancy levels.

  14.  This additional activity is all part of the co-ordinated approach by public sector across the South West to the economic downturn. The regional economic task group—chaired by the new regional minister Jim Knight MP (who is also Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform)—has identified employment and skills as one of the four priority areas. At a local level area action teams have been convened—including the local authorities, JCP, LSC and the South West RDA—and are working with businesses and individuals using existing partnerships and structures. To date through Jobcentre Plus alone the European Social Fund has helped 3,000 people in Cornwall of which local Jobcentre Plus data shows over 800 have moved into work.

  15.  In terms of directing the additional ESF investment—it is vital to gear the additional intervention to an evidence based assessment of local need as a result of the economic downturn as well as keeping focussed on the longer term goals of continuing to support those furthest from the labour market and develop the skills for a more modern economy. National policy needs to be shaped to the needs of the local economy—for example in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, with its dominance of small businesses requires different types of support compared with more industrialised areas of the country. To meet national goals of tackling the economic downturn, different geographic tactical responses are needed at the local level.

  16.  Core to this must be what is most effective for the individuals concerned—this may be ESF provision, and mainstream initiatives shouldn't override this. There must not be an over-laying of mainstream and ESF provision.

How might the potential of funds deployed via the ESF to promote life-long learning, skills for new jobs, security of employment and flexible labour markets across the UK and EU be improved?

  17.  With the complementary roles of Convergence ERDF and ESF within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—ESF has a powerful role to play in developing new skills for new jobs. The shape and intensity of ERDF Convergence investment is a key driver to the present "refresh" of the ESF Convergence framework. This "industrial activist" approach to skills will be particularly important to the environmental goods and services and environmental technologies focus of some of the ERDF investment. The emphasis here will include skills rather than simply qualifications. An area based approach is vital to ensure effectiveness.

What contribution can the ESF make to the EU's renewed Jobs and Growth Strategy post-2010, including the European Employment Strategy? How can the EU best contribute to "jobs and growth" in the period 2010-14?

  18.  There is an ongoing debate as to the effectiveness of cohesion policy interventions and the role of structural funds (for example the Barca Report, 2009 An Agenda for a Reformed Cohesion Policy) in contributing to the Jobs and Growth Strategy.

  At present both European and UK government structures militate against the focus and prioritisation that is being looked for—the focus for integration is at the level of cohesion policy and then at the local place based level. While Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly works hard at the integration of ERDF and ESF Convergence more could be done to build linkages between the two structural funds at all levels.

  We would like to keep the present scope for the use of the ESF Convergence in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, in particular to the ability to support higher level skills including R&D, graduate placements in business etc—which are key parts in the skills contribution to a more modern economy and can be particularly useful tools in a more activist approach to the use of public funds in economic regeneration. And from the viewpoint of the individual being supported by ESF intervention this is more likely to produce a sustainable outcome as the ERDF and ESF investments are being used actively to support a common goal.

  19.  This ability to prioritise and co-ordinate will be particularly important in the forthcoming climate of greater public sector budget strictures.

Bearing in mind the depressed economic context and the EU's budget review which is intended to consider spending priorities post-2013, what do you consider the role of the ESF should be, if any, post-2013? On what sort of priorities should it focus, and how might it most effectively complement, rather than duplicate, other spending programmes?

  20.  Experience from the use of ESF in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly points to ESF continuing to have the ability to respond to local need both in the welfare to work and workforce development agendas. This should include:

    — support the most disadvantaged into work via a partnership approach where barriers to employment are managed at the level of the individual customer rather than on an institution by institution by institution basis;

    — the ability to continue to trial new ways of working, the lessons from which can then be transferred to the mainstream; and

    — include higher level skills that are vital to the new jobs agenda and the needs of a modern economy.

  21.  This needs to be actively integrated at the local level into the mainstream and other programmes to ensure additionality and effectiveness and where needed the targeting of specific needs and geographies. In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly this is achieved via Cornwall Works[1] which provides an over-arching strategy and brand for all welfare to work investment.

1 October 2009

Annex 1

CONTEXT AND PRIORITIES FOR ESF INVESTMENT IN CORNWALL AND THE ISLES OF SCILLY

INTRODUCTION

  Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is situated in the bottom left hand corner of the UK, surrounded on three sides by the sea. Employment growth has increased substantially in recent years (2.5 times the national rate) although it is still concentrated in lower-value sectors. The economy is dominated by tourism, agriculture and food processing, and the public sector.

  While some progress has been made in the development of a more knowledge-based economy, the area would benefit from further improvement in economic performance and productivity.

  Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has witnessed substantial population growth over the last 40 years. Inward migration has been concentrated in the 30-60 age bracket, typically of working families, with, until recently, the outward migration of younger people.

  Cornwall is the only area of England that qualifies for Convergence investment, reflecting its specific development needs. See www.convergencecornwall.com to view progress in the implementation of both ESF and ERDF Convergence in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

KEY CHALLENGES

  Since 2000 there has been a marked improvement of GVA per capita from 65% to 75% of the EU average, but nevertheless, the area still lags behind the UK average, and European Convergence investment will be focussed on increasing skills levels, and investing in support for business to increase productivity and levels of innovation and research and development.

  Around 40% of the workforce has low levels of qualification. Since there is a clear link between level of qualification and employment chances, this group is consequently vulnerable to labour market changes. The shift towards a more knowledge-based economy, as proposed by the Leitch Review, will increase the demand for those with qualifications at Level 3 and Level 4. The transformation of the skills profile of the workforce needs to be achieved through employment and skills initiatives, the development of higher-level skills, and increased support for higher education.

KEY FACTS AND FIGURES

Cornwall UK


Population0.5m60.5m
Productivity (GVA per hour worked)67.6 100
Employment rate as % of working age population (2006) 7674.4
Skills level of economically active adults qualified to Level 4 2031.1


Source: Office for National Statistics. January 2009

REGIONAL PRIORITIES

Priority 4: Tackling barriers to employment

  Key challenges:

    — Worklessness

    — skills for employability

    — barriers to employment

    — threat of, and actual redundancy

    — disadvantaged communities

    — Best start for young people

    — NEETs

    — enterprise and entrepreneurship

    — employer engagement

    — aspiration and ambition

  Key priorities to focus on:

    — demand-led provision - reflecting the needs of employers

    — pre-employment support and post-employment mentoring

    — community grants as a pathway to help people into training and employment

    — spatial concentrations of worklessness—households with a mix of worklessness, child poverty, NEETs etc.

    — rural access

Priority 5: Improving the skills of the local workforce

  Key challenges:

    — Workforce development

    — increase rates of qualifications at Levels 2, 3, and 4

    — step change in workplace learning

    — develop sector skills programmes

    — social partner capacity-building

    — Higher education and higher level skills

    — training of researchers and postgraduate studies

    — graduate placements in business

    — entrepreneurship and enterprise

    — employer-led provision

    — access for all.

  Key priorities to focus on:

    — basic skills and training for those without Level 2

    — skills shortages

    — management and leadership in business

    — higher education



1   www.cornwallworks.org.uk Back


 
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