Memorandum by Community Development Foundation
The Community Development Foundation (CDF) is
a UK "non departmental public body" supported by the
Active Community Unit of the Home Office. Its role is to pioneer,
analyse and demonstrate ways of strengthening communities, and
to disseminate guidance to policymakers at government and other
levels, to professionals working with communities, and to community
and voluntary organisations themselves.
CDF has extensive experience of how European
social policy works and has carried out innovative and influential
research on the effects of EU funding on local communities both
in the UK, in other member states and in accession countries.
It is a founding member of the Combined European Bureau for Social
Development which produces EU-wide material on participation.
Full information about CDF is available from 0207 226 5376, and
evidence of its work on European regeneration is among the sources
Consideration of the need for a new European
regeneration framework provides a timely opportunity to overcome
a longstanding source of problems regarding the de facto exclusion
of most community and voluntary organisations (NGOs) from access
to EU funding. This problem is particularly acute in the field
of regeneration and applies in all member states and accession
countries. In this submission we are concerned both with the effects
in the UK and with the implications across the union and for the
Key EU policy statements (such as Agenda
2000 on which the current period of the Structural Funds is
based) make clear that the EU wants to be "as close as possible
to the citizen", to encourage "active citizenship"
and "widest possible local partnership" and "overcome
If EU policy on regeneration is to achieve these
aims it is essential that its programmes are designed to include
the contribution of the broad range of community and voluntary
organisations (NGOs) which address these issues. Local NGOs are
the bulk of the third sector, the backbone of civil society and
the natural vehicle for citizen involvement in public affairs
in all countries. Yet in practice EU regeneration programmes exclude
participation by the majority of these organisations. This is
a message that can be heard in various forms from all over the
EU and accession countries.
The main causes of the problem are the apparent
requirement that virtually all individual projects supported by
EU programmes have to have a labour market objective.
One has to speak of this as an "apparent"
requirement because it is not always clear at what level of decision-making
the requirement is laid down in each case. There are a number
of programmes which are explicitly targeted at job creation, training
for employment or improving employability but there are also a
number which are about social inclusion and local development
which are not necessarily about the labour market. Yet numerous
local NGOs which have important contributions to make in these
spheres, whether under Objectives 1, 2 or 3 or the smaller programmes
find their proposals rejected on the grounds that they do not
have labour market objectives.
It is difficult to pin down firmly the justification
for these decisions because the EU does not maintain any kind
of overview of the level of NGO participation in its programmes
but it appears to be a combination of three factors:
1. The belief, amongst policy-makers, advisers
and evaluators, that the entire Structural Fund programme is necessarily
about the labour market and that this has to be carried through
into every local project supported by it.
2. The belief that the terms "regeneration",
"social inclusion" "local development" and
even "third sector" are (only or primarily) economic
3. Lack of understanding by some policy-makers
and officials at EU and sometimes at government or local level
of the broad and vital role of community and voluntary organisations
(NGOs) in regeneration and social development.
If the policies governing the Structural Funds
are traced back to the Treaty of Europe, the establishment of
the Funds and their modification through the various EU summits
and documents, it is found that the ambiguity as to whether the
Funds are solely economic instruments runs right through the discourse.
Much of the ambiguity hinges on the meaning
of "social" in the perennial phrase "social and
economic". The very fact that "social" is added
to "economic" in this phrase which is the pillar of
so much EU policy indicates that it is not simply a variant of
the term "economic" itself. Yet this is how it is treated
in the administration of most of the EU policies governed by it.
Logically one would expect that a combination of "social"
and "economic" factors would result in programmes consisting
of some social, some economic and some social-and-economic projects.
In fact there are almost no projects which are purely or primarily
social, eg improvement of local conditions per se, improvement
of living conditions for the 35+ per cent of the adult population
who are outside the labour market, improvement in the delivery
of public services. Almost the only projects which get support
in these areas are those which offer to tackle these issues via
improving access to the labour market. In other words there are,
under the Structural Funds, economic projects and social-and-economic
projects but no social projects.
Because the final operation of the Funds is
negotiated separately for each member and accession state, and
to some degree separately for each region within the states, through
a chain of decision-making involving a variety of different levels
and officials, it is difficult to say how far this constricted
intrpretation is determined from the "top" or how far
the ambiguity is deliberate (in order to allow some flexibility)
but is inadvertently thwarted by widespread economistic assumptions
and ignorance about the role of the NGO sector. Once the assumption
becomes embedded that a certain Fund is about the labour market,
operational documents will reflect this, as will the selection
of departments and specialists to administer it, assumptions will
be consolidated and the message arriving at the "coal face"
will appear to be fixed.
That the programmes are not entirely monolithic
is demonstrated by the fact that specific programmes in specific
regions in different countries have occasionally "bucked
the trend" by finding ways to include genuinely wide NGO
participation, achieved by the building up of a more flexible
understanding between the specific stakeholders and officials
in that case. Yet economistic narrowness remains the norm.
The result at local level (where all programmes
ultimately either succeed or fail) is that the vast majority of
local NGOs contributing to local development and combating social
exclusion do not think they are relevant to or eligible for EU
regeneration schemes because job creation is not one of their
These observations, based on dialogue with local
practitioners in a wide variety of EU and accession countries,
were demonstrated objectively in research on a large European
Social Fund project in 2000. "Volcaan" was a project
within the short-lived UK "ESF Priority 4 on capacity building
and community development," 1997-2000, one of the few programmes
to attempt a specific widening-out of EU funding access to the
NGO sector as a whole. NGOs across Norfolk were found to be addressing
the usual huge range of social issues: health, mental health,
disability, counselling, arts, leisure, education, women, childen,
families, elderly, carers, housing, homelessness, transport, environment,
faith groups, charity and general social purposes. Research showed
that only a tiny proportion of these organisations regarded job
creation or labour market issues as one of their main concerns.
The vast majority had therefore had no connection, nor seen any
potential connection, between their work and EU programmes. A
small minoriy of NGOs, such as training organisations and employment
projects, did have objectives about the labour market, and some
of these were successfully accessing EU funding.
By any sensible measure, the majority of NGOs
are highly relevant to local development and social inclusion.
Yet because of the assumption running through EU funding that
the labour market is virtually the exclusive key to regeneration
and social inclusion, the great majority of the NGO sector is
being left out of the picture.
This reality is obscured by the fact that a
segment of the NGO sector which is labour market oriented has
been remarkably successful in parts of the UK (but rarely in other
member states or accession countries) in accessing some parts
of EU funding and getting "a seat at the table" in the
relevant decision-making arenas. This is a success story from
which much could be learned, and some of the organisations involved
have played a significant role in widening access for NGOs which
have been able and willing to adapt their objectives into labour
An added irony in the situation is that a large
number of the "non labour market" NGOs are in fact producing
benficial labour market by-products. Three quarters of "non
labour market" NGOs in the Norfolk research were serving,
among others, unemployed and unwaged people, had unemployed or
unwaged people doing voluntary work for them and thought that
this experience would be likely to improve those people's employability.
This tendency for all social concepts however
broad to "default" to an economistic bias in EU funding
is illustrated by the treatment of "social capital".
Outside the EU funding context, social capital means trust, co-operation
and social networksthe very stuff of community and voluntary
organisations' work. It is used in this sense in policies and
funding programmes of the World Bank and the DFID, and a vigorous
world-wide debate on it is taking place. In 1998 the EU set up
a supposedly experimental programme on "Local Social Capital",
with two or three pilot projects in each member state, specifically
to widen funding access to local NGOs. The definition of local
social capital appeared at the start quite reasonably to include,
but not be limited to, labour market projects. As the programme
has proceeded the interpetation has progressively narrowed so
that in effect only labour market projects have been validated,
thus not only reducing this "experimental" programme
to a replication of the existing EU mainstream but making the
term social capital virtually meaningless in the EU policy context.
This reductionist tendency in EU policy is causing
no little dismay amongst NGOs in the accession countries. On the
one hand the involvement of NGOs is often encouraged as evidence
of the EU's interest in promoting democracy, human rights and
citizen involvement. On the other hand, when NGOs attempt to become
practically involved many find that (in addition to certain bureaucratic
difficulties) their role is only recognised if it has a labour
Underlying the operatonal problem is the fundamental
problem of the longstanding tendency of the EU to see economic
policy as virtually a "single-handed" solution to the
problem of regeneration and social exclusion. UK domestic policy
on regeneration, particularly in the last few years, has been
more holistic and innovative, in such programmes as the New Deal
for Communities, Neighbourhood Renewal and Community Strategies,
but the principles of these models do not appear to have been
carried into the European arena . The UK is in a position to play
a positive role in promoting a wider concept of regeneration from
which all countries would benefit.
We would propose that the UK government should
urge the EU to take the following actions:
1. Adopt a new, more holistic interpretation
of regeneration, balancing the roles of the public, private and
NGO sectors, and balancing labour market and non labour market
factors, thus providing ample scope for contributions by NGOs
working on non labour market objectives.
2. Guide the 2003 interim evaluation of
the Structural Funds programmes to look at levels of broad NGO
participation in current programmes, and to make recommendations
to the individual programmes aimed at overcoming obstacles to
broad NGO participation in the remaining 2003-06 Structural Fund
3. Create specific streams in each programme
area to support local NGOs in their authentic roles free of any
required connection to the labour market (though there will in
fact be numerous spontaneous by-product effects of benefit to
the labour market).
4. Survey periodically the level of participation
in EU processes of the broad NGO sector, including small community
groups and non-labour market-oriented organisations and publish
regular information this.
5. Re-examine the use of the term "social
capital" in EU programmes and bring it into line with the
World Bank definition.
We would also propose that the UK government
should review lessons and experiences from its domestic regeneration
programmes which could assist in this reorientation of the European
regeneration framework and disseminate them through European channels.