For those of you interested in the DWP space, the Secretary of State has reiterated his commitment to the procurement of the Work and Health Programme and we are clear now that the core funding for the programme is not affected. Therefore to our best knowledge procurement will go ahead to the revised timetable indicated. As part of this, conversations with combined authorities are still underway as to any commitment of funds from them to the programme.
What is more uncertain, however, is the ESF component which was expected to be added to the Work and Health Programme financial envelope. It is still ERSA’s understanding (shared by officials), that ESF is safe until 2018, if not later. However, what is not known is when the go ahead will be given by HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office so such money can be formally committed. In the case of any ESF component to the Work and Health Programme, it might mean that ESF monies is added to the financial envelope later in the process.
There is also a real question now as to whether the scale (and indeed shape) of the Work and Health Programme will prove anywhere near enough to cope with any economic downturn. ERSA has already articulated that very clearly to the DWP, which is aware that the labour market situation might change dramatically over the period of the contracts and is thus looking at the level of flexibility it might need in its contracting. Pushing to ensure the sector retains its capacity given choppy water ahead is an absolute priority for ERSA.
In terms of those of you waiting to hear about ESF bids, the situation remains unchanged from last week. As stated, the expectation is that ESF will be safe until 2018. However, contract letting will be subject to that wider approval and there is, as yet, no indication when that will be.
Finally, for those of you interested in Scotland, I include below the Scottish Government’s comment in relation to ESF. This was reiterated by my meeting with the new Scottish Minister for Employability and Training earlier this week.
The European Union brings clear benefits to Scotland, including access to European Structural Funds. As the First Minister has made clear, the Scottish Government will now explore all options to secure Scotland's place in the European Union so that these benefits can be preserved. The European Structural Fund will clearly be a key part of those negotiations.
Scottish Government has legally committed European funds to projects up until the end of 2018 and in some cases the middle of 2019. Officials tell me that it believes these projects support important economic, employment and social priorities and thus, until it is clear how negotiations with the EU are to progress, these important projects are set to continue.
Kirsty McHugh, ERSA Chief Executive