There are strong links between the current priorities of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) and the key themes of this review. This post focuses on the social and economic importance of improving health and well-being outcomes for excluded groups, the need for partnership working at the local level, the role of the VCSE sector in reaching and supporting those most at disadvantage and how the NHS should optimize the involvement of the VCSE sector.
Improving health and well-being outcomes
Improving health and well-being outcomes is both a social and economic imperative – relieving the strain on public services and increasing the resilience of our communities and workforce. Helpfully, it has been identified at European level as one of the most pressing societal challenges we face – alongside social exclusion, poverty, migration and climate change – meaning that EU resources are in place to enable us to transform how we do this. This is important as it chimes with our collective understanding in the health and care sector that innovation is now a ‘must do’, rather than a ‘could do’, and that the NHS has a clear role to play in the local growth context. Addressing these challenges, for example, will require new ideas in services, products and models to be adopted and spread across the NHS and at a time of severe financial restraint. It will mean investing not only in technological innovation but also in social innovation.
The ESIF possibilities for the VCSE sector across health and care are multiple. Turning to technical innovation first, the ESIF Growth Programme makes specific reference to the role the NHS has in supporting small and medium enterprises (including social enterprises) to bring innovative health products to market, mainly through the new 15 Academic Health Science Networks. Their role will be ‘….to work with all parts of the NHS and healthcare delivery partners to accelerate the adoption and spread of innovation in services, products and ideas’. These kind of initiatives would be supported primarily by the European Regional Development Fund. However, a quick search of the draft European Social Fund Operational Programme will produce several references to the need to improve the health and well-being of those furthest from the labour market, as often poor health, and particularly mental health, is a key determinant of social exclusion and unemployment. Moreover, the need for a skilled workforce fit to care for the most vulnerable and the opportunity to create jobs in the care sector are compelling arguments for the importance of focussing resources on partnership working between the NHS and VCSE sector.
Local partnership working
Partnership working at the local level is a key feature of the ESIF Growth Programme and social innovation perfectly showcases the necessary collaboration between the public, voluntary and private sectors. Albeit a national programme, ESIF has been strategically determined by the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in conjunction with their local ESIF partners and projects will be implemented at the level of the LEP area. Put simply, these projects are shaped by the community and for the community – let’s play our part. The calls for European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and ESF have just commenced, so while it is still too early to provide an in-depth analysis of what health and care related initiatives have seen the involvement of the VCSE sector, this is something we will be monitoring and shouting from the rooftops.
Understanding how the ESIF Growth Programme works is important in determining what the involvement of the NHS as a funder for the programme can be. Under ERDF, projects are responsible for sourcing match funding (i.e. 50% of total costs), so the NHS can come in as a direct match funder. Under ESF around 70% is ‘co-financed’ by various public agencies including DWP, Skills Funding Agency, the Big Lottery Fund and NOMs which negates the need to find additional match funding. Still, the remaining 30% of ESF will be through direct calls, meaning projects will need to find their own match funding.
Involving the VCSE sector
Coming back to the join review then, many of the projects described in the interim report annex strike us as projects that could be funded through ESF and/or ERDF jointly with investment by the NHS. There is no need to rehearse here the many arguments for the need to involve the VCSE Sector in the design, implementation and monitoring of the ESIF Growth Programme (the European Regulations do that for us). What is clear is that the references to civil society in both the ERDF and ESF Operational Programmes are numerous and the governance structures of the funds require that representatives from the VCSE sector are included. Neither will we rehearse the arguments for the need to invest in VCSE activities in the health and social care sectors as these are made in the review. What we do think is particularly important though is to underline locally and nationally how policies will be turned into practice, and how public service reform moves from rhetoric to implementation. The ESIF programme can help solidify the VCSE sector’s role in this change, bringing real improvements to the lives of our communities.