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In conversation: Heather Heward, North East LEP Programme Manager: how a recent update to the European Social Fund (ESF) rules will unlock investment across the region.


In our latest blog post, Heather Heward, North East LEP Programme Manager, discusses how a recent update to the European Social Fund (ESF) rules will unlock investment across the region.

We are delighted to announce that an ESF applicant no longer has to have all employer match funding in place before the project commences.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has worked closely with the ESF Managing Authority to secure this change.

We’re extremely pleased with the decision as this will unlock significant private investment to upskill those in employment. These changes not only benefit the North East LEP area, but also will have the potential to unlock employer match across England.

Employer contributions are defined as the financial contribution made by the employer towards support put in place by the ESF project, for example financial contributions towards the undertaking of training for the workforce or employment costs associated with undertaking work placements and internships.

Each project will still be considered and appraised on its own merits. However, a project should be able to use employer contributions as match funding and remain compliant with ESF rules if grant applicants and employers maintain a detailed adequate audit trail and meet all ESF regulations.

Essentially, the project could now be approved and commence as long as there is a demonstrated level of demand for the service in terms of expected employer contributions.

The applicant will of course have to show really robust compliance at every stage but we think it really has the potential to transform the way we train and up-skill our workforces.

Here at the LEP, we are thrilled with the development as we feel it’s going give employers the boost they need by providing financial support towards the business-specific training they need to upskill their workforces; it will also provide the opportunity for employees to progress within the workplace.

We now need good, strong applications using the employer model to respond to the current ESF open calls to maximise these opportunities for local businesses. Details on the calls can be found on the LEP website here
We completely welcomes the news and look forward to seeing the economic benefits for the region.

If you have any questions, please get in touch.

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£9.7m in grant funding available for rural businesses through the Rural Development Programme for England

The latest round of grant funding from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area has been announced, with grant funding totalling £9.7m available to businesses in the food processing, tourism and rural business development sectors.

The RDPE provides funding for projects in England which create jobs and growth in the rural economy.

Applications are being sought for projects that will grow a business, create jobs or bring more money in to the rural economy. Grant funding can help pay for constructing or improving buildings, and buying new equipment and machinery.

Three grant funds are available: Rural Business Development Grants, Rural Tourism Infrastructure Grants and Food Processing Grants.

Rural business development grants will help fund the growth of small rural businesses, new or existing. This includes farmers who want to diversify in to non-agricultural activities.

Rural tourism infrastructure grants will help fund the costs of capital expenditure on tourism infrastructure. The aim is to support projects that will encourage more tourists to come, to stay longer, and to spend more money in rural areas.

Food processing grants will help fund food processing businesses to grow and create jobs. This is for food and drink processing businesses which process agricultural and horticultural products. Examples include meat, milk, grain and root vegetables. Fisheries projects are not eligible.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP, said: “The rural economy plays an important part in the region’s overall economic success and we would urge businesses to take this opportunity to access the funding available which will help to grow and develop their business.”

The capital grants, which will be made available from the Rural Payments Agency, will fund up to 40% of a project’s costs with the minimum grant amount being £35,000. This means that a project’s overall cost would need to be over £87,500 to be eligible for the funding. To be eligible for the grants, businesses must be located in the eligible rural areas of County Durham, Northumberland and Gateshead or within the North East Rural Growth Network boundary, (see map).

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership works closely with Government to ensure that the European Funding allocation is aligned to projects that help deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan. Priority sectors are manufacturing and engineering, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and knowledge intensive business services and creative businesses.

Three workshops will be held for businesses to find out more about the funds. These are planned for:-

Tuesday 14 February – Kirkley Hall, Northumberland
One workshop covering tourism grants and a separate workshop for rural business development and food processing grants.

Thursday 16 February – Durham County Hall, Durham
This workshop will cover food business development and food processing grants.

To book a place at any of these events, click here

There is no deadline for applicants as the calls are open until January 2018, although applications will be reviewed every three months.

Full details of the calls and guidance notes can be found: here

Applicants are invited to submit expressions of interest via email to[email protected]

The grants are funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), which is part of the European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF).

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) supports European policy on rural development. To this end, it finances rural development programmes across the Member States and the regions of the Union. Programmes are designed in cooperation between the European Commission and the Member States, taking into account the strategic guidelines for rural development policy adopted by the Council and the priorities laid down by national strategy plans.

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£26m ERDF call for organisations to lead North East growth and tackle flood dangers

Innovation, high growth businesses and reducing flood risks headline a new £26m call for applications from the European Union in the North East.

The latest round of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) investment earmarked for the region seeks expert partners to deliver maximum return on the £26m cash pot.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership works closely with Government to ensure that the European Funding allocation is aligned to projects that help deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan.

The latest funding round consists of:


• Up to £16m to promote research and innovation. The North East LEP has a goal of making the region an innovation hotspot in Europe.

Investment will concentrate on backing companies working in the North East’s four ‘smart specialisation’ areas of passenger vehicle manufacturing, subsea and offshore technology, life sciences and healthcare and creative and digital industries

• Up to £2.5m to enhance the competitiveness of small and medium sized firms. This investment is looking to increase the density of high growth SMEs in the North East LEP area.

These firms have a disproportionately high positive impact on regional growth – in 2014 it is estimated the North East had 600 high growth companies with a combined turnover of £2.4bn and 21,000 employees. A 25% increase on 2014’s figure could generate an extra £186m of regional GVA and create nearly 4,000 new jobs

• Up to £8.6m to address specific environmental risks, ensuring disaster resilience and developing disaster management systems.

In the North East LEP area there is a determination to reduce the risks from flooding and climate change. Local partners are being sought to find innovative and new ways to reduce flood and erosion risk to economic infrastructure and businesses, enabling them to survive, thrive and grow.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair, said: “The UK is still very much in the European Union and until we leave it, the North East LEP is determined to take the maximum opportunities for the regional economy from the investment offered by the ERDF programme.

“This new funding call presents a real opportunity for North East businesses and organisations which I urge them to pursue if they have a viable project which meets ERDF objectives.

“I would urge companies and organisations wanting to know more to visit the North East LEP website for more information.”

The North East LEP will be holding an information event giving more detail about the calls on 5 January 2017. To register to attend the event, please click here.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has extended the European Union funding guarantee to the point of Brexit, confirming that the Government will honour European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) projects signed before Britain leaves the EU.

The 2014-2020 ESIF are planned to inject more than £437m into the North East. ERDF is part of the total ESIF North East allocation.


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In Conversation with North East LEP Chair, Andrew Hodgson: North Easy Ready To Capitalise on EU Funding Guarantee

The North East ready to capitalise on EU funding guarantee.

The announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond extending the European Union funding guarantee to the point of Brexit is an opportunity the North East is determined to seize.

Confirmation that the Government will honour structural and investment fund projects signed before we have left the EU is welcome news.

We now hope that this signals that the programmes will start to flow again.

In the North East, we are ready, poised and waiting with our partners to ensure those projects in the pipeline get over the line and secure much needed EU funding.

The Government is clear about the criteria projects must meet for this to happen.

They must continue to meet EU funding rules but must also demonstrate good value for money and be in line with domestic strategic priorities.

In the North East, we have a very strong pipeline of projects.

Many of them are aligned with the priorities of the refreshed North East Strategic Economic Plan, produced after widespread consultation by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership with its partners.

It’s about making sure that we all have those projects lined up and ready to respond to any opportunities that might be forthcoming.

And the only way to get more projects to come forward now is to have more application rounds or calls.

We are waiting for Government to press the button and invite more applications which could be before or after the Autumn Statement on 23 November.

We know where we are going with a clear vision and plan and it’s the LEP’s role to make sure that the strategically important projects are supported by our local partners.

It’s important at this point to take stock of what is at stake here and why this investment is so important to our region.

The North East was originally allocated £437m in European Structural Funds up to 2020. Out of that central pot, at present over £198m remains unallocated.

Some of this funding is earmarked to support business growth and job creation. The LEP and partners recognise the need to support more business start-ups, create more growth through innovation, and support more small and medium sized businesses to export.

The European Social Fund is funding earmarked for skills and employment support, helping the unemployed and economically inactive back into work and supporting those in work to up-skill and re-skill. This will mean employees in the workplace will get the opportunity to progress their careers, and to provide them with the opportunity to progress from part-time to full-time work.

We also have key sectors that we need to support with digital skills, a need identified in the work we did with the business community in the SEP refresh and a key Government priority.

We need to ensure that people within traditional industries have the skills to allow them to take the career progression opportunities further up the ladder.

In the healthcare sector for example, one of the gaps we can see emerging is the need for more skilled individuals able to support the sector’s growth.

The 50-plus workforce could lend itself well to this sector, they have the capability to fill these roles given their life experience, but they need new skill sets to take those opportunities.

We are saying to Government that we are ready and poised and we know what our priorities are.

We will work tirelessly to take the funding opportunities when they arrive.

North East England is one of the UK regions which needs EU funding most, with a proven track record of investing it well.

If this money is committed, it could see our region with structural funding in place up to 2021-2022, which gives Government the time to create the new policies to have new funding streams in place for the period after this.

There is a need to do this. Let’s get this moving and let’s do this well.

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North East LEP seeking Government assurances on EU structural funding

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is seeking reassurance that European (EU) funded projects already signed off by Government will continue to be delivered.

To date, the North East LEP area has £89.5million of its £437million EU structural funding committed to projects for the 2014-2020 period.

A further £104.5million worth of projects were put forward to Government for approval in advance of the Referendum.

Collectively these projects will support over 7,400 businesses across the North East LEP area, which covers Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, driving growth and job creation.

The funding will also support almost 30,000 local people into employment and provide those in employment with the skills they need to progress in work.

Chair of the North East LEP Andrew Hodgson said: “We are hopeful that these projects will be honoured by Government and deliver important support to businesses and local people before Brexit happens.

“It is important to realise we will not be immediately losing the opportunities that EU funding has historically brought to the North East.

“Millions of pounds of projects are still likely to go ahead, bringing new jobs and closing the skills gap in the North East. The truth is that we just don’t know yet if or when we will see changes.

“EU funding has hugely benefitted the North East over the last few decades and we are lobbying Government for clarity and seeking assurances that any potential future funding gap will be filled. We urge the Government to provide this guidance quickly to ensure opportunities to create jobs and growth are not lost.”

There is no formal Government guidance available currently following the EU Referendum result on the amount of European funding that will be available in the future for North East businesses and organisations beyond the projects already approved.

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Launch of European Structural and Investment Funds programme

I am delighted to confirm that the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds programme has now been launched.

Whilst part of a national programme the local strategy, developed with partners, remains at the heart of local delivery of programme. The notional allocation of 540m Euros is a major opportunity for investment in smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the North East to drive business growth, skills, employability and inclusion, sustainability and innovation. These are essential elements in delivering on the aspiration in the Strategic Economic Plan for achieving more and better jobs in the North East.

Following the launch of the programme as a whole, a small number of time-specific calls have been launched. We will be be launching a much fuller range of calls following formal approval of the programme. Given the uncertainties around calls before the final adoption of the programme we have focused on those areas of particular need due to time-limited match funding, particularly pressing issues of continuity and major strategic need. These calls will therefore cover elements of innovation, business support revenue provision and a small element of employability provision.

Projects worth up to £17m are sought which focus on strengthening and promoting research, technological development and innovation in the North East LEP, enhancing research and innovation investment and capacity, increase investment and activity in research and investment by SMEs. Particular areas of activity include building aligned networking support capacity and enhancing research commercialisation. The closing deadline for this call is the 27th May 2015. More details.

Business Support
Funding of £10m-15m is being made available for revenue projects looking to provide support to small and medium sized enterprises to increase entrepreneurship, particularly in areas with low levels of enterprise activity and amongst under-represented groups and increase the growth capacity. This call will close on the 29th May 2015. Activities in this area should align and integrate with the North East Growth Hub. Particular areas of local need have been identified around:

· Business growth, productivity and resilience
· Trade and export growth
· Investor readiness
· Entrepreneurship and enterprise
· Social enterprise
· Digital technologies

More details.

This is a very limited call to run a project providing access to employment in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership area. Activity is focused on addressing barriers to reintegrate individuals into the labour market or sustainable employment through tailored and targeted support and greater alignment between health and mental health practitioners and employment services. A total of £1.5m is available through this call. The closing date for proposals is 22nd May 2015. More details.

Youth Employment Initiative (County Durham only)
This call seeks proposals in response to the new Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) in County Durham under three themes of peer mentor and employment support, engagement and progression of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and providing work-related opportunities through a new employment zone. Total investment work £13.4m is available and activity must be completed no later than 31st July 2018. The closing date for this call is the 22nd May 2015. More details.

I therefore encourage you to look at the published calls which are available here.

You will need to register with the central government Managing Authorities to apply which can take up to 10 days. You can do this by emailing [email protected] and further details are available on Gov.uk.

All applications will need to respond to local strategic need, as set out in the North East LEP European Structural and Investment Funds Strategy and Strategic Economic Plan and the eligibility criteria set out for European funding through the draft Operational Programmes.

You can find out more about the local strategy and context on our website or by contacting the team.

James Davies
ERDF Policy and Strategy Co-ordinator