“Everyone should have the chance to find work or a chance to retrain, no matter where they live, particularly as we continue our recovery from the pandemic."
New jobs and skills training which are vital to levelling up the country are at risk of delay or being lost altogether due to a looming funding gap when existing European cash runs out, councils warn today.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, said that current plans show a potential gap in provision between the end of EU funding for employment and skills and the start of the People and Skills priority of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).
The European Social Fund (ESF) currently funds employment, people and skills provision up until the end of 2023, with some programmes finishing earlier than this. With the People and Skills priority for the new UKSPF commencing from April 2024, this leaves a funding gap which could impact most those who are furthest away from gaining employment.
The LGA said this gap will likely lead to a reduction of capacity and provision in both councils and their partners, including the potential permanent loss of vital expertise built up over many years. Voluntary and community sector organisations will receive some support for the transition, but this does not go far enough to bridge the funding gap as it does not reflect the ESF’s wide range of delivery partners, including local government.
Whitehall now needs to work with councils to assess the gap in local services, to mitigate any service disruption to residents and continue this shared commitment to level up the country.
Councils, as democratically-elected local leaders, have an important role to play in the new fund and now want to work closely with national government to make it a success. This includes developing an effective transition arrangement between the ESF and UKSPF, making sure services can continue to support those furthest away from the jobs market.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Everyone should have the chance to find work or a chance to retrain, no matter where they live, particularly as we continue our recovery from the pandemic.
“Councils are relying on this vital funding to build on work already underway to help level up opportunities and spread prosperity in their areas. It is good that government has recognised the value of local leadership and flexibility in the design of the new fund, but this forecasted gap in provision could disrupt future plans and the progress made so far.
“To support our local residents and businesses, it is essential that the Government ensures there is a smooth, uninterrupted transition from the end of the ESF programme to the UKSPF and works with councils at every stage, if we are to stay on course and together achieve our shared ambition of levelling up all parts of the country.”