UNITED KINGDOM: Despite a last-minute rule change by the government aimed at enabling councils to finance them, back-to-work programs across England that were previously funded by the EU are being forced to shut down and lay off staff.
Local governments received permission last week in a letter from Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) to use their SPF allocations for employment programs beginning in April.
The EU structural grants, which went to some of the UK’s poorest regions, were replaced by the SPF, the government’s £2.6 billion replacement. Before April 2024, the third year of the fund, government regulations for England stated that grants from the fund could only be used for “people and skills.”
Charities and private sector companies that offer back-to-work programs welcomed the change of heart that came about as a result of intense lobbying.
The over-50s, the economically inactive, and disabled persons were specifically targeted by Jeremy Hunt in his recent “back to work” budget, he continued, in many of the ESF-funded programs that were previously funded in the UK.
“They’ve said the shared prosperity fund will replace EU funding. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to what the EU was funding on these types of projects.”
Ian Ross, the managing director of Whitehead Ross Education and Consulting, said that one project his company was in charge of ended before Christmas and cost “six excellent staff,” while another project in Dorset to improve the skills of young people ends this month.
The Local Government Association’s (LGA) People and Places board chair, Kevin Bentley, welcomed the government’s move but issued the following caution: “Given this announcement comes so close to the new April 2023 date within which provision can be delivered, and many areas will have committed most of their funds for this year already, it may be a challenge to maximise the impact of this new flexibility.”
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