Across the EU, the public finances of member states are under pressure, and citizens are looking to local and national governments to provide sustainable growth.
Against this background, the UK government will next year agree changes to the way the EU structural funds are delivered. This will undoubtedly have an impact on the way local authorities and others tackle barriers to growth and jobs.
The current funding round – covering the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agricultural Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund - runs until 2013.
Looking to the next round of funding in 2014-2020, we are hoping to achieve a smaller budget that takes into account this pressure on EU public finances.
The European Commission has also proposed a new approach to the funds, with more focus on driving EU competitiveness, on having a measurable impact on growth and on a more flexible approach to programme geography.
These funds can help overcome barriers to growth in a variety of ways. For example, the Low Carbon Innovation Fund is making early-stage equity investments into small and medium businesses in the East of England, supported by the ERDF. Then there is the ESF which is supporting growth through jobs – such as delivering additional apprenticeships to help young people prepare for and start their working lives.
The new round of funding and these proposed changes in approach gives us an opportunity to look at the way we deliver and target the funds in the UK. We will all need to rise to the challenge.
We have been talking to local authorities and other delivery partners across England as part of an informal consultation to get their views on how delivery of these funds can be improved.
Partners called for a less administratively burdensome and a more flexible approach. This would allow for placed-based and themed programmes that involve more local decision making, and the ability to coordinate elements of each funds so that they could have greater impact, for example aligning business development with skills development.
Many also called for fresh thinking on matched funding. I understand that this remains a challenge for some, and I am keen to explore how we can better exploit match funding, for example, by better aligning EU programmes with national investments, local expenditure and private sector investment.
I have met with ministerial colleagues to discuss these concerns, and I will continue to work with them so that the system delivers greater impact, offers even better value for money and ensures transparency for the taxpayer.
This mirrors the approach we are taking in negotiations in Brussels. The UK led a call - supported by ministerial counterparts for Italy, France, Poland, Spain, Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic - for the Cypriot Presidency to make space in the negotiations for a review of the rules and regulations, with a view to cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy and standardising systems across EU funds, wherever possible.
It is important to ensure that we have the most effective model for the next round of funding, so we’re keen for local authorities and other delivery partners to contribute their ideas.
My officials will be holding a series of consultation meetings around England in the autumn. We will then launch a formal consultation in spring 2013, which will inform the agreement that we reach with the European Commission for the next round of funding.
We look forward to hearing what you have to say on this important issue.
Mark Prisk, business minister