Making Your ERDF or ESF Bid Successful

Author(s) S. Merali-Younger

The new round of European Structural and Investment funding (ESIF 2014-20) opened to bidders earlier in 2015, and Regeneris has already supported several organisations with bid-writing for economic development projects across England.

As leading UK consultants in bidding for and evaluating European funded projects we’ve taken some time out to reflect on our top ten list of must-get-right factors if you are thinking about bidding.

1.  Before you start, make sure you know what you’re getting into.

ERDF and ESF are a huge funding opportunity, but they are complex and resource intensive to bid for and to manage.  A lot has changed under the new programme, particularly around the bidding process with the dual involvement of DCLG and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), however the fundamental objectives of the funds remain largely the same.  It is worthwhile familiarising yourself with the funds and maybe speaking to others who have been involved in bidding for and delivering European funded projects in the past.

If you don’t know about the funds, you can get an introduction and find out more here.

2. Make sure your project is eligible.

Broadly speaking, money is available for: projects which support small and medium sized businesses with innovation, ICT and enhanced competitiveness; the low carbon economy and climate change adaptations; and employment and skills support projects.  The precise rules on which activities are eligible are more complicated however.  Both capital and revenue activity can be funded, but there are numerous activities which are excluded.

Detailed information on eligible activities is available in the guidance here.

3. Understand what your Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) wants.

Once all of the eligibility hurdles are passed, LEPs will get to decide which projects they want to support in their area.  It is essential to speak to the LEP in your area about your project proposal before it is submitted, to test the water, see how it fits with other activities coming forward, and take the opportunity to ensure they are on board with what you are proposing.  You also need to wait until a call for proposals is issued which fits with your project.

This map will help you identify which LEP area your project is located in and from there you should check the relevant LEP’s website and review their ESIF strategy as well as their Strategic Economic Plan to get an initial sense of their priorities.

If you want to know which calls for proposals are available at any one time, you can search here.

4. Think about the geographic coverage of your project.

Under the 2014-20 programme LEPs now decide which calls for proposals they wish to put out and when.  These are time limited and are focused on particular action areas within the programme.  If your project cuts across two LEP areas then you would need to seek funding from both LEPs.  This would only be possible if there are relevant calls for proposals open at the same time for both LEPs.

5. Ensure you have a strong rationale and business case.

To secure funding there has to be a robust case that sets out the nature of the problem you are seeking to address, the market failure that requires public intervention, the project’s objectives, how the funding will translate into activities, outputs and impacts and how it aligns with the State aid framework.  Much of the application form is focused on drawing out this information, so having a clear and coherent business case and the underpinning evidence behind this will ensure your application is robust.

An initial guide to State aid can be found here.

6. Think about the scale of the project.

The minimum size of projects is typically £1m over three years, of which half would be European funding and the other half match funding.  If this sounds like a stretch for your project, it could be worthwhile exploring what is happening amongst other organisations and whether there is potential for collaboration to increase the size of the project.  The funding allows for several ‘delivery partners’ alongside a lead partner.  Exploring what was funded in the previous programme period and which organisations were involved in those projects would be a good place to begin looking for potential collaborators.

There is more information on the roles of delivery partners in a project here.

A list of the types of project funded in the last programme 2007-13 can be found here.

7. Ensure you have match funding secured.

You will need to secure the match funding required for a project (typically 50% match).  This will be an increasing challenge for public match funding sources as government austerity takes a firmer hold. Using private sector finances as match can prove challenging owing to the reporting obligations and restrictions that go with it, however in recent years, financial contributions from beneficiary SMEs have been increasingly used as match. The arrangements for this have to be carefully designed to avoid being seen as income generated.

In-kind match continues to be challenging although using existing staff as match funding is a commonly used source, but again has to be carefully designed to remain compliant within the fund regulations.

8. Ensure you can deliver the outputs needed.

DCLG wants to maximise the value for money of projects they support and this is a competitive bidding process, so the outputs you set for your project have to be ambitious and cost effective.  The European funding programmes are carefully monitored and money can be clawed back for under-performance. It is vital to also look at the definition used for outputs and results to understand the potential subtleties and implications involved.    Choosing the right targets and getting the right balance between challenging and realistic targets is key.

You can read more about ERDF output indicators here.

9. Draw in the technical support you need.

There are various technical aspects of an ERDF bid which have to be completed correctly but may require more specialist inputs.  These include sections on procurement, State aid, income generation and cross-cutting themes.  If you don’t have specialist expertise in these areas in-house, it is worthwhile getting advice up-front as it could save vital time and money downstream.

10. Ensure you have the appropriate internal arrangements to manage a European funded project.

Managing a European funding contract is complex and resource intensive.  Reporting on costs is typically required monthly and has to be accurate to the penny.  Progress reporting is typically quarterly or monthly.  Detailed record keeping for every transaction is required and external audits will take place over the course of the contract to ensure that everything is in order.  Setting the management of the project up soundly from the outset can save significant time, stress and reduce the risk of claw back at a later date. Any arrangement need to be shared across all delivery partners to ensure every part of the project is being appropriately managed.

Over the last decade, Regeneris has been one of the leading economic consultancies supporting the development and evaluation of European funded projects in the UK. We are already working with several national and local organisations to develop funding bids to the new programme.

Our team has detailed knowledge of the rules and regulations of European funding, experience in making a clear and robust business case, and knowledge of good practice from consulting with over 100 European funded projects across the UK in recent years.

We also work closely with LEPs across England and with DCLG nationally on European funding programme development, giving us insights into the priorities of different partners.

If you are seeking support in developing a funding bid to the European Structural and Investment Fund, we can provide the expertise you need – from light touch advice and guidance to full project development and bid writing services.

For more information or to discuss support for a particular project bid, please do not hesitate to contact us.