Increase UK productivity and reduce inequalities post-Brexit with world-leading initiative, says cross-sector working group


Government must seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve funding for education, training and employment support for the most vulnerable groups in society when the UK leaves the EU, a cross-sector working group has said. 

The group convened by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) today published proposals for a successor to the European Social Fund (ESF) that it said would help boost productivity and create a fairer and more inclusive society. 

The ESF provides investment in education, training and employment support and has led to significant positive employment and skills outcomes for disadvantaged groups across the UK. Between 2007 and 2013 the UK benefited from €8.6 billion (approx. £7.7bn) in ESF funding, including national match-funding. A further €3.5bn (approx. £3.1bn) has been allocated to the UK for 2014-2020.

The group calls on the government to commit no less than existing levels of ESF funding to a successor fund to ensure communities not reached by mainstream public services continue to be supported.  

The paper identifies a set of six design principles for a successor initiative which will help to advance the government’s industrial strategy and tackle the skills gaps and productivity challenges highlighted in this month’s Autumn Statement:

1. Taking a holistic approach and promoting integration between health, wellbeing and employment services

2. Basing delivery on a multi-sectoral partnership approach designed around people

3. Fostering innovation and involving new actors in the design and delivery processes

4. Including programmes with a mix of short-term and long-term funding to ensure both flexibility and stability 

5. Supporting a quicker process to identify need and allocate funds

6. Ensuring ease of access for providers of all sizes and sectors

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:

‘The European Social Fund has had a significant impact on the ability of vulnerable groups to fulfil their potential, participate in society and contribute to economic growth. Failure to replace it would have serious consequences, not just for the support disadvantaged groups receive, but also for inclusive growth and social cohesion in the UK. 

‘With the UK poised to leave the European Union, the government now has a unique opportunity to improve the design and delivery of employment and skills funding. This is why NCVO and ERSA have brought together experts in learning, skills and employment
provision to develop a framework for a successor fund that helps our nation achieve its post-Brexit potential.’ 

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said:

‘We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that every part of society can share in our post-Brexit future. It is crucial that we not only safeguard the vital investment in education, training and employment support which ESF currently provides, but that we improve on it with a new initiative which helps to tackle the social injustices set out in the government’s manifesto.

‘Through this, we know that specialist providers can help more people than ever before, engage with communities more effectively and get more money to the frontline. That is why we are leading this cross-sector group with NCVO to help build a brighter, more productive and inclusive economy.’

Brexit Britain must not lose £2.4 billion investment in people

We call for successor programmes to European Social Fund (ESF) of at least the same value. We want these to be locally-driven, reduce bureaucracy, integrate services, and better support people and employers to meet their skills and employment needs.

We stand at a crossroads with some big decisions to take. The UK is leaving the European Union (EU). We have a strong economy and high employment.

But there is much more to do for everyone to share in this prosperity and to meet our future skills needs: 9 million adults in England have low literacy, numeracy or both; some groups, such as disabled people, and areas of the country have much lower employment rates; and 6 million people are in low paid work.

We must now grasp a once in a generation chance to invest in our people and tackle these entrenched challenges. Ensuring a replacement for European Social Fund (ESF), due to invest £2.4 billion in England in the six years to 2020, is central to this. Intended to support more than 2 million people by 2020, local ESF projects support adults to improve their life skills, disabled people to find work, and those most likely to miss out to get a second chance.

We believe it is essential that this investment in people continue at least at the same level as currently provided by ESF and other adult skills and employment programmes.

However, we can invest differently and better. We have an opportunity to simplify funding, integrate services, and target investment where it is most needed – making sure more money reaches the front line. All of this can better support people and employers and deliver better value for money for taxpayers.

This is a time for bold and creative thinking on how to create the jobs of the future, ensure everyone has a fair chance in life, and develop the skills we need for future prosperity. That requires a commitment to investment and a plan for delivery.

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