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Funding criteria - find out if you can apply

The multi-billion Euro funds are to improve the labour market, reduce social exclusion, promote business and help the economy to be more environmentally friendly.

Priorities for the UK

The aims of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme (ESIF) in the UK are:

  • improving labour market and education policies
  • reducing the risk of social exclusion (20 per cent of the ESF will be used for this)
  • promoting research investment and the competitiveness of the business sector
  • promoting an environmentally friendly and resource-efficient economy.
In England over six billion Euros will be available and split between the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
There are also around £177m Euros  from the European Fund for Agricultural Development (EAFRD).


UK Partnership Agreement

The UK Partnership Agreement sets out funding priorities, objectives and management arrangements for the ESIF. EU regulation requires governments to establish partnership agreements before the EU assigns funds and the UK Partnership Agreement was adopted in October 2014.

Download the ESIF UK Partnership Agreement

Operational Programmes

Each Fund also has an Operational Programme (OP) to detail investment priorities, funding allocations, and objectives set out in partnership agreements.

The OPs contains key information on how the funds will be delivered, managed and evaluated.

The Operational Programme for ERDF was formally agreed in June 2015

The ESF Operational Programme was formally adopted in September 2015.

NCVO Response

In early 2014, the government launched a consultation on the OPs for the ERDF and the ESF. NCVO submitted a response to the ESF programme in which it welcomed the focus on social inclusion and the involvement of a dedicated opt-in organisation such as the Big Lottery Fund which will provide opportunities for organisations to be involved in the programme.

Download NCVO’s response to the consultation on the OP for the European Social Fund

Read the Government’s response to the ESF OP consultation

Read the Government’s response to the ERDF OP consultation

Thematic objectives

The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) 2014-2020 Growth Programme is based around 11 key Thematic Objectives (TO), they are:

  1. Innovation, research and development
  2. Information and communications technology – improving access, quality and usage
  3. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – improving competitiveness in the agricultural and aquaculture sectors
  4. Moving towards a low carbon economy
  5. Promoting climate change adaption
  6. Protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency
  7. Promoting sustainable transport and unblocking key networks
  8. Promoting employment and labour mobility
  9. Promoting social inclusion and combating poverty
  10. Investing in education, lifelong learning and skills
  11. Improving institutional capacity for efficient public administration.

There are also cross cutting themes designed to improve the wider benefit, value and impact of these investment programmes. They are:

  • sustainable development
  • equality and anti-discrimination

Social innovation is not a ‘cross-cutting’ theme, however European Regulations require that social innovation is promoted across the ESF. Social innovation can also be supported on an optional basis with the ERDF under the Thematic Objectives of Research, Development & Innovation and SME Competitiveness.

What charities need to know about the thematic objectives


  • The  ERDF will primarily fund objectives 1-4.The ESF will prioritise objectives 8-11.
  • Objective 9, promoting social inclusion and combating poverty, is particularly relevant to the voluntary sector.
  • Also important is Objective 1, innovation and research and development.
  • Social enterprises are regarded as SMEs within objective 3.
  • Voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations are key providers within the employment and skills objectives.
  • Most English regions will be required to concentrate ERDF spending on objectives 1,2 and 3.
  • In England, the Big Lottery Fund plans to be the main match funder, or opt-in organisation, for TO 9.

Read more about the Big Lottery’s offer of match funding.

Focus on youth unemployment

For areas with high youth unemployment there will be £170 million extra funding available from the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI). London, Merseyside, Tees Valley and Durham, West Midlands, Hull, Leicester, Nottingham and Thurrock will all receive extra funding.

This funding, which aims to help young people aged 15 to 24 years find work, will be matched by an equal amount from the European Social Fund and also by project partners, bringing the total funding to nearly £490 million.

Find out about the YEI on the European Funding Network


The rules covering all five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are set out in the Common Provisions Regulation. They set out how ESIF should work together to set clear investment priorities for 2014-2020. They also aim to increase coherence between the EU 2020 priorities and implementation of funds.

Further regulations set out specific rules for each fund: