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Case Studies / Policy Development

The ESF Peer Group – the fight to save transformational services in Northern Ireland

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MCE worked an umbrella group of 22 European Social Fund funded projects across Northern Ireland to help secure the future of vital projects helping the most vulnerable in our society.

From the initial idea to project delivery, MCE delivered a range of services

Project Summary

Through the UK’s membership of the European Union, 67 community projects across Northern Ireland received funding from the European Social Fund to reach the most vulnerable in our society: the unemployed and economically inactive; disabled people; those not in employment, education or training; and those requiring community and family support.

These funds were historically match funded by the Northern Ireland Executive; but due to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, access to ESF funding was to end on 31st March 2022.

A group of 22 ESF-funded projects came together to lobby collaboratively under the banner The ESF Peer Group, and working with MCE, campaigned to secure the future of these vital projects.

The Challenge

The UK’s replacement funding scheme for ESF, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, was not due to start until 1st April 2023, leaving a one-year gap in funding upon the end of access to ESF.

The EU agreed to continue to provide ESF funding for this year to bridge the gap, but unless these funds were match funded by Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy, they would need to be returned.

DfE had not accounted for this money and the then Minister stated the money was not available. It was vital that the Northern Ireland Executive provided this match funding required to accept the EU funds.

Our Solution

MCE employed a public affairs plan to show elected representatives and government departments just how transformational these projects have been, and to communicate that the loss of this experience and expertise would be extremely damaging to the communities they serve.

We organised a series of breakfast briefings across Northern Ireland to get our message across to elected representatives, demonstrating the impact ESF funded projects have had on local communities.

We organised and facilitated meetings with senior civil servants at both NI Executive and UK Government level.

To complement all activity, the chair of the Peer Group was prepared for broadcast interviews.

The Results

We gained true cross-party political support, with the leaders of the five main political parties in Northern Ireland penning a joint letter to the UK Government in support of our campaign.

Press coverage established the Peer Group as an expert voice for the sector.

The then Economy Minister announced an additional £2.6 million to ensure that projects funded through ESF could continue to operate until March 2023, providing a lifeline until the start of the UKSPF funding.