Act quickly to protect millions in ESF funding, colleges warn government

17th August 2016 at 13:37
colleges ESF funding FE providers Brexit
The government has guaranteed that it will protect cash from the European Social Fund after Brexit – as long as contracts are signed before the autumn statement

The government must act quickly to ensure that FE providers do not lose out on tens of millions of pounds in European funding, the Association of Colleges has warned.

The Treasury has announced that it will “guarantee” the next round of funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) beyond Brexit – as long as contracts are signed before the autumn statement.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) is currently in the process of awarding ESF contracts which will run through to 2018. In 2014-15, colleges received £120 million from European structural and investment funds such as the ESF (excluding subcontracted provision).

But a lack of clarity over exactly when the UK will leave the EU has caused uncertainty for providers.

The date of the autumn statement has not yet been announced, but in recent years it has taken place in late November or early December. It is not yet clear what will happen in the case of contracts signed after the statement.

The SFA told TES that it was in the process of evaluating and awarding contracts for ESF activity, running through to 2018.

'What happens in the future?'

The government’s guarantee was welcomed by Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges – but he said the government and local enterprise partnerships, which also allocate ESF funding, must “react quickly to ensure this ESF funding goes ahead”.

“The decision to protect the ESF programmes will be excellent news for the colleges that have put in a bid recently,” he said.

“Colleges have a good 25-year record of using ESF money to provide high-quality training, but the contract ends in 2018 and this leaves a question about what happens after that.

“The date of this year’s autumn statement has not yet been confirmed, and it is necessary that local enterprise partnerships and government departments react quickly to ensure this ESF funding goes ahead.”

The ESF is partly administered through the SFA, and is intended to improve “the skills of the workforce and [help] people who have difficulties finding work”.

The government has also committed to funding projects after Brexit which are currently paid for directly by the EU, including the Erasmus student exchange programme. In 2014-15, colleges received £25 million through directly funded EU projects.

An SFA spokesman said: “ESF activity has been procured with an end date of 31 March 2018, and is in the process of being evaluated and contracted. Following this announcement, we are working through next steps with the Department for Education.”

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