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Voluntary sector and European funding

Find out the key policy asks of voluntary organisations in the new 2014-2020 Programme, and download our support tools.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations' (NCVO) European Funding Network (EFN) has engaged with the voluntary and community sector on the future of EU funding since November 2011. With its EFN partners, NCVO gathered views through online consultations and events across England.

Additionally, NCVO’s Sandra Turner was seconded to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as a civil society expert, during the design of the new European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020.

The voluntary sector in England and its role in the ESIF 2014-2020 Growth Progamme

NCVO research shows there are over 162,000 voluntary organisations in the UK. Organisations employ 793,000 people - 2.7 per cent of the UK workforce. They spend approximately £18.1bn on goods and services each year. There are over 60,000 social enterprises in the UK and 5,950 cooperatives employing 230,000 people.

NCVO considers the sector to have three distinct roles in the new programme:

  1. Strategic partners on governance structures at the national and local levels, as well as active contributors to the many working groups set up in this Programme
  2. Deliverers of operations in many of the thematic areas of the new programme, for example, social inclusion, rural development, and the environment
  3. Providers of intelligence, particularly around best practice in activities aimed at those furthest from the labour market.

Voluntary sector priorities

During the development stage, voluntary and community sectors called for:

  • a specific programme with smaller grants to encourage civil society access
  • local community-led approaches that use EU funds to address local needs
  • a variety of funding mechanisms – including smaller grants, contracts and social investment – that increase out-reach to community organisations
  • innovative approaches to match funding EU grants, including use of volunteer time
  • simplification and alignment of EU Funds to improve access and the application process
  • ring-fencing of funds for social inclusion activities
  • recognition of the role that the voluntary sector can play in the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change
  • capacity-building to raise awareness of the funds and encourage community organisations to apply.

Key successes of the sector

  • Big Lottery Fund agreed to be a large provider of match funding to the ESF Social Inclusion Programme. The ESF will require the involvement of specialist, niche and small organisations and this should lead to greater participation by the sector in the ESIF.
  • The new programme will include opportunities for Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) particularly in disadvantaged areas.
  • An increased number of LEPs have indicated their support for community grants. These are very small grants of around £15,000 targeting small voluntary organisations working with the very disadvantaged.
  • Volunteer time will be considered on a limited basis for ESF Projects that fall outside co-finance or opt-in arrangements.

Voluntary Sector Representatives on local ESIF Committees

The ESIF Growth Programme has a stronger emphasis on partnership working than previous programmes. Managing Authorities are required to report to the European Commission on actions taken to actively involve key partners (such as the Voluntary Sector) in the design, implementation, and monitoring phases of the programme.

The architecture of the ESIF Growth Programme is built on the 39 LEP areas and 39 LEP areas ESIF sub-committees.

There are two representatives from the Voluntary Sector on the National Growth Programme Board and at least one Voluntary Sector representative on each of the 39 local committees.

Find out more about the Board and the committees.

Useful Documents

In the new ESIF 2014-2020 Programme, the voluntary sector can provide expertise on social inclusion and match funding, social innovation, CLLD, volunteer time, and social investment.

Here are some tools to help your organisation understand the role of the sector in the ESIF 2014-2020 Programme.

Go to our LEP pages to read more on voluntary sector engagement with Local Enterprise Partnerships

Find Local Support

There are a number of organisations that can offer support to voluntary organisations on the new ESIF.

Big Lottery funded local contact points across England, you can find your Programme Development Fund (PDF) Organisation according to your LEP area on the Big Lottery website.

Also, see your regional networks for further details:

North West – Network for Europe

Yorkshire and Humber – Involve Yorkshire and Humber

West Midlands - RAWM

East Midlands – One East Midlands

London – LVSC, VCS Assist