European Social Fund and Regional Development Fund projects have transformed the lives of thousands across Northern Ireland

Date published: 19 September 2019

Projects funded by the Northern Ireland European Social Fund (ESF) have equipped 77,000 people with the skills and experience to thrive in the workplace and in wider society, while those supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) have boosted the local economy by increasing employment and productivity.

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That was the key message today from Department for the Economy (DfE) Director of European Fund Management, Maeve Hamilton, when she congratulated organisations from across Northern Ireland for successfully delivering ESF and ERDF-supported projects aimed at combatting poverty, enhancing social inclusion and promoting sustainable economic growth across Northern Ireland.

Ms Hamilton confirmed that both the ESF and ERDF programmes have successfully delivered on all targets for the period 2014-2018, thereby securing the €31.4million performance reserve from the European Commission (EC). DfE is the managing authority for both programmes and Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK to have achieved this across all programmes and spending priorities.

This funding has already been committed to projects that aim to deliver significant economic and social impacts over the remaining programme period to 2023. Over the period 2014 until 2023, these programmes will deliver over €1billion of activity in these priority areas.

Projects funded by the current NI ESF Programme have already equipped over 77,000 people, including over 26,000 participants working towards an apprenticeship, with the skills and experience to thrive in the workplace and in wider society. Around 11,000 ESF participants have progressed into employment, 7,000 into further education and training and over 13,000 apprentices have gained a qualification across all parts of Northern Ireland.

Projects supported by the ERDF have boosted the local economy by supporting research, technological development and innovation, enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and supporting the shift towards a low carbon economy.

During her welcome address to a stakeholder conference in Cookstown, Ms Hamilton who passed on the congratulations of DfE Permanent Secretary Noel Lavery to attendees, said: “ESF-funded projects have delivered a solid foundation for many who are now in long-term employment. You are helping to address inequalities and ensure greater social inclusion by providing real opportunities to individuals to ultimately achieve meaningful and sustained employment. You assist individuals to overcome personal barriers to social inclusion and employability and your work not only enhances the lives of those individuals, but their families, friends and the local economy.

“By working with our delivery partners in Invest NI and the Department for Infrastructure, the ERDF Programme has helped increase the number of companies actually engaged in Research and Development activity from a baseline of 495 in 2012 to 900 in 2018. The number of SMEs classified as high growth companies has also increased from a baseline of 695 in 2013 to 980 in 2018 and employment within micro and small businesses is now at 335,000 against a baseline of 297,000.

“The construction of a new ERDF-funded energy efficient Depot was completed in February 2019 to accommodate the technological requirements of the hybrid vehicles to be used on the Belfast Rapid Transit routes. The Glider off-vehicle ticketing system (also ERDF-funded) enables speedy boarding of Glider services, improving the customer experience and thereby encouraging a modal shift from car to public transport.

“We have also recently approved €23million of ERDF funding to be used in a number of NI Housing Executive schemes to increase the energy efficiency of NI’s social housing stock.”

Ms Hamilton added: “You had been set challenging and ambitious targets. I am pleased to report that following formal assessment, in August 2019 the EC confirmed that both programmes had successfully met and indeed, in some areas, exceeded the targets. This is a magnificent outcome.”

Concluding, she said: “The ongoing political and economic uncertainty present unique challenges, but what we have achieved together by working in partnership will provide a robust foundation for the future and is a strong indicator of the resilience and determination of everyone present here today to provide our citizens with the skills to secure and sustain employment. I want to take this opportunity to assure you that whatever the political developments in the coming weeks and months, this department will continue to work in partnership with all of you to see these projects through to a successful conclusion.”

Marc Vermyle,‎ representing the European Commission, also praised the organisations for meeting their targets and unlocking the additional funding.

He said: “Meeting the performance milestones proved to be a challenge for structural funds programmes' management across Europe. The fact that Northern Ireland met all its milestones and doing so qualifies for the performance reserve contribution, deserves congratulations, both for the management and for the project sponsors and participants.”

Notes to editors: 

1. The aim of the Northern Ireland European Social Fund (NI ESF) 2014-2020 Operational Programme is to combat poverty and enhance social inclusion. The programme supports participants to progress into further education, training and ultimately employment by assisting organisations to deliver employability programmes for unemployed and economically inactive participants, people with disabilities and young people not in education, employment or training. There are 66 projects, which will support 65,000 participants, currently in receipt of funding from the ESF programme (1 April 2018 – 31 March 2022) under Priorities 1 and 2 of the programme.

2. The Northern Ireland European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Programme is designed to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the achievement of economic, social and territorial cohesion, and high levels of employment and productivity. The ultimate aim is to improve Northern Ireland’s economic growth, with a focus on research, development and innovation, small medium enterprises' competitiveness and a low carbon economy.

3. Further information on the ESF and ERDF Programmes and a full list of the ESF projects broken down by Council area are available on the ESF page of the DfE Website.  

4. For media enquiries please contact the DfE Press Office on 028 9052 9604. Out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on: 028 9037 8110.

5. Follow us on Twitter @Economy_NI

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