European Social Fund Plus
For the 2021-2027 period, the ESF will be merged with the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD) and the directly managed Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) Programme, to become the ESF+. The aim of the ESF+ is to achieve high employment levels, fair social protection and a skilled and resilient workforce for the future world of work, in line with the principles set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Ireland’s ESF+ allocation for 2021-27 is €508m in current prices. ESF+ is a co-financed programme, meaning that the EU allocation must be matched by national funding. This co-financing rate varies by region. Ireland will have three NUTS 2 regions in the 2021-2027 round, with two different rates of co-financing. As ‘more developed’ regions, the Southern and the Eastern & Midlands regions will receive 40% in EU co-financing, while as a ‘transition’ region the North-Western region will receive 60% in EU co-financing.
The legislative package which underpins the ESF+, the Common Provisions Regulation and the ESF+ Regulation, entered into force in June 2021.
There are a number of ‘thematic concentration’ requirements for ESF+, meaning areas where Member States must spend a minimum amount of their allocation. Ireland will be required to spend 25% of the ESF+ allocation on social inclusion measures, 5% on tackling child poverty and 3% on addressing material deprivation. An ‘appropriate amount’ must also be spent on youth employment and capacity building of social partners and civil society organisations. Member States are also required to support actions of social innovation with a higher rate of EU co-finance of up to 95% available for such activities (for up to 5% of the national ESF+ allocation).
Programming for the next round is currently underway. A Partnership Process Steering Group (PPSG) has been established to assist and advise the programming authorities throughout the development process for the Partnership Agreement and the various Cohesion Policy Programmes for the period 2021 – 2027. The PPSG is chaired jointly by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Member State Authority for Ireland with overall responsibility for EU Cohesion Policy, and the ESF Managing Authority. The PPSG includes representatives from the economic and social partners; relevant bodies representing civil society; environmental partners; non-governmental organisations; bodies promoting social inclusion; gender equality and non-discrimination and relevant Government Departments and agencies.
A Needs Analysis was conducted by Indecon Economic Consultants to provide the evidence base for the future ESF+ programme. The analysis undertaken included a review of the EU and national policy context, research on the baseline situation in relevant policy areas and a targeted stakeholder consultation process. The drafting of the Programme is also informed by the findings of a public consultation process that took place from July to September of 2020.
Informed by these inputs, the following high-level themes have been identified for the future ESF+ Programme:
It is expected that the future ESF+ programme will include a focus on skills development and lifelong learning, including funding of a range of courses in further and higher education.
The ESF+ regulation seeks to encourage the greater use of social innovation through the possibility to avail of a higher rate of EU co-financing up to 95% (for up to 5% of the national ESF+ allocation). Social innovation covers the development and implementation of new approaches to social challenges, as well as the development of new partnerships, including with civil society. The ESF MA intend to programme a dedicated priority on social innovation which will seek to harness the expertise of non-governmental organisations with experience in identifying, promoting and scaling social innovation to find new ways of addressing social needs in the areas identified above.
Discussions are ongoing with various Government Departments and Agencies regarding potential schemes for inclusion in the Programme and with the European Commission in relation to the detailed drafting of the Programme. It is expected that a draft mature of the Programme will be available by early next year for a further round of public consultation and subsequently Government Approval and formal submission to the Commission.
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