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June 19, 2013

European funds at risk

Not so long ago, doom laden rumours abounded that Scotland’s share of European funding was coming to an end – the new accession states of Europe needed cash and we had had our share for long enough. While it turned out that these fears had been exaggerated, there are very real pressures on these budgets and there is a serious risk that our sector will lose out. A Government consultation on this ends next week. It’s vital that our sector’s voice is heard.  SCVO has produced an excellent briefing paper.


European funds at risk

Briefing for third sector organisations and rural communities 

1. What is the SRDP? 

The Scotland Rural Development Development Programme (SRDP) is intended to provide support for a range of economic, environmental and social measures in rural Scotland. It is jointly funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Scottish Government. The new programme is meant to run from 2014 to 2020 and the Scottish Government has launched a Stage 1 consultation to help them shape it. 

The SRDP’s social dimension, including the LEADER programme, is small compared to the funding for land-based activity but it is important. Through LEADER and other funding streams, it has supported many successful community-based and managed projects, facilities and services. 

This is the first of a series of briefings from SCVO that will highlight issues of importance to rural communities. SCVO will also be developing its own response to the consultation and will seek to take into account the views of its stakeholders and members. 

??This initial briefing is intended to encourage individuals, community groups and third sector organisations with an interest in Scotland’s rural communities to respond to the current consultation, which is available on the Scottish Government website. 

2. What does it have to do with the third sector and community groups? 

Investments made through the SRDP must fit into the EU Rural Development Priorities, which are: 

1. Fostering knowledge transfer and innovation 

2. Enhancing competitiveness 

3. Promoting food chain organisation and risk management 

4. Restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems 

5. Promoting resource efficiency and transition to low carbon economy 

6. Promoting social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development 

Priority 6 is clearly of most importance to most third sector and community-based organisations. However, the sector can also make, and indeed is making, a significant contribution to the other priorities. 

These priorities are addressed using the individual investment articles in the European legislation. The most relevant one for the third sector is Article 21 – Basic services and village renewal in rural areas. 

This covers a wide range of activities including broadband, renewables, basic services and related infrastructure. Investment in these activities promotes economic sustainabilility and resilience in rural communities. 

The Scottish Government’s SWOT analysis for the new SRDP identifies as opportunities for the programme: 

• Possibility to create and maintain vibrant rural communities 

• Ability to enhance the social economy and the voluntary sector in rural areas 

??The SRDP is clearly not designed to be exclusively for farmers and land managers. It is also intended to support rural communities and the wider rural economy, and it is important that this dimension of the programme is fully recognized and implemented. 

3. What about the current SRDP? 

The Scottish Government is being commendably frank in its appraisal of the current SRDP. While it points to success in the delivery of around £1.2 billion of spending, with close to 80% of applicants being funded, it admits there are questions about the delivery of the programme. These include how the funding was targeted and whether best value was achieved, as well as the complexity of the application system, claims administration and audit issues. 

For community groups, the main experience of the SRDP has been through Rural Priorities and LEADER. While many excellent projects have been funded, including community facilities and services, some applicants have found the burdens of bureaucracy, payment delays and audit requirements at best irksome and at worst highly stressful. 

In some cases these difficulties and bureaucratic barriers have resulted in significant delays to projects and increased project costs. They have even discouraged communities from applying for much needed funding. 

The Scottish Government recognises that there have been problems with the programme and has stated that the design of the next programme must be simpler and more customer friendly. They also state that “clarity of guidance, purpose and scheme rules will be essential in the new programme to address the audit risk”. 

SCVO believes that this consultation is an opportunity to use the positive and negative experiences of the current SRDP to influence the new programme for the better, including designing the best possible technical assistance and advisory services to support applicants. 

??Applying for funding through the new programme, including LEADER, will continue to be a demanding and time consuming process. But at a time when budgets are tight and getting tighter, it is important that community groups access the full range of funding that is available to them and are provided with appropriate and relevant support to help them to do so. 

4. How does the new SRDP fit with other European funding? 

For the period 2014-2020, the European Commission has proposed that the SRDP will fit into a new Common Strategic Framework (CSF). This will bring the SRDP together with the European Social Fund (ESF), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Maritime and Fisheries Fund with the aim of achieving better co-ordination and targeting of the funds. This will be developed through a Partnership Agreement between the member state and the European Commission. 

In Scotland, the proposal is that EU funds should be marshalled into three ‘Scottish Funds’which seek to explicitly address Scottish Government and EU priorities: 

• Competitiveness, Innovation and jobs 

• Low carbon, resource efficiency and environment 

• Local development and social inclusion 

Each of the three Scottish Funds would have resources allocated to it from the European programmes (including SRDP), depending on the eventual allocations agreed at EU and UK level and individual analysis of need against relevant priorities as set out in operational programme legislation. Land-based rural development funding (including climate change, forestry and agri-environment) will continue to be delivered by the current delivery partners (SNH, Rural Payments & Inspections Directorate and Forestry Commission Scotland) through a new application portal. 

Funding for the ‘wider rural economy’ will be developed and delivered alongside the other European funds (ESF, ERDF). The consultation document says “Our goal is to ensure we identify the right agency/organisation to deliver each aspect based on relevant expertise”. 

??It is important that SRDP funding for rural development ‘beyond the farm gate’ is not sidelined and limited to the 5% minimum of the budget that has to be spent on LEADER. It is therefore vital that third sector and community interests are represented on all decision-making and monitoring bodies. 

5. What role will LEADER have? 

LEADER funding will continue to be delivered through Local Action Groups (LAGs) according to agreed Local Development Strategies, as part of the Local Development Fund. A minimum of 5% of the SRDP budget must be delivered through LEADER. 

While business development applications will be delivered through the competitiveness fund, views are being sought on small local businesses should be supported through LEADER. 

The European Commission are encouraging the use of the LEADER approach across all the funds to: 

• Strengthen the role of local development strategies 

• Be more flexible, innovative and responsible to local needs 

• Provide greater transparency and clarity 

• Focus on animation and capacity building 

• Strengthen private and third sector participation in delivery of funds 

• Strengthen networking and co-operation at all levels. 

The Scottish Government will shortly be asking for expressions of interest in preparing Local Development Strategies by prospective Local Action Groups. 

??Third sector and community involvement in LEADER will be more important than ever, and begins with active involvement in the new Local Development Strategies. 

6. What assistance and advice will be available for applicants? 

The consultation document proposes an improved advisory service for farmers and land owners, but does not mention support, advice and guidance for applicants from other sectors. Applicants to LEADER will continue to be supported by LAG staff, as resources allow, to develop their applications, but there is no mention of wider independent support for community groups through a service such as Rural Direct. 

??All applicants for SRDP funding should have the support and assistance that will help them to achieve success in their applications. This should be fully resourced, universally available to third sector and community groups and integrated into the management and delivery of the programme. 

7. What issues should third sector and community groups raise in their consultation response? 

SCVO will circulate its draft response early in June with detailed answers to relevant questions. Meanwhile, however, the following are the headline issues we have identified: 

??Promoting social inclusion, poverty reduction and sustainable economic development should be one of the main priorities of the new SRDP 

??Basic services and village renewal in rural areas should be a priority for investment through the SRDP 

??Spending on non-farm rural development must not be limited to the obligatory 5% of the budget on LEADER required by the European Commission 

??Support and assistance must be available to third sector and community groups applying for funding across the programme 

8. What can I do now? 

??Circulate this briefing to any groups and organisations who may be interested 

??Find out if there is a consultation roadshow near you and and take part in it 

??Consider running a facilitated discussion event to gather views and formulate a response (SCVO’s Rural Direct team can help with this) 

??Get in touch with SCVO with any suggestions or questions about the consultation 

??Draft a response to the consultation, however brief, and copy SCVO into it 

??Look out for further briefings, including a draft response from SCVO 

Norman MacAskill 

Head of Rural Policy