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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/esf-action-notes-2014-to-2020-programme/04620-covid-19-impact-on-esf-programme-managing-authority-update
|Date Issued||20 March 2020|
|Review Date||3 April 2020|
Who should read
This Action Note is to all European Social Fund (ESF) beneficiary organisations (Co-financing Organisations and grant recipients), the Greater London Authority and other Intermediate Bodies.
This Action Note provides an initial ESF Managing Authority response to the impact of COVID-19 on the delivery of the England ESF programme.
The Managing Authority recognises the scale of impact of the restrictions caused by Coronavirus, which is affecting how projects are being delivered. We are urgently seeking to ensure arrangements are in place to minimise disruption to Programme delivery and to ensure Grant Recipients and Delivery Partners are supported and advised through this period.
We are committed to working pragmatically with all our projects and stakeholders and will implement flexibilities where it is possible to do so to ensure stability in the short term, allowing projects to respond to the challenges we face as a nation.
As a top priority we are working closely with other ESIF partners, including the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government responsible for the ERDF programme on an HMG response and will be issuing joint and individual programme communications in the weeks ahead.
We are also seeking an urgent position from the European Commission regarding the potential for easement of requirements; and the outcomes from these discussions will inform our response and feed into our further communications with you.
We recognise that the current situation creates immense uncertainty and significant challenges to the delivery of existing projects and the development of projects in the pipeline. We recognise that you and your stakeholders will have a number of questions and concerns regarding how to proceed. Delivery Partners and Grant Recipients can continue to flag issues with their ESF MA contact. It is important to recognise that managing queries may delay our ability to process claims or review appraisals, we will do all we can to minimise the impact.
We ask that you and your stakeholders continue to deliver your ESF project as fully as you are able; and plan to submit claims and applications as normal.
You are asked to note the question and answers set out in Annex A. This reflects the range of queries and issues the ESF Managing Authority is considering and consulting on at this time, including those it has received since w/c 9 March 2020.
The Q&A list will be updated as more questions are received and more detailed responses are available. We expect to issue further communications including a further Action Note in the weeks ahead.
ANNEX A - COVID-19: ESF Programme Questions and Answers 20 March 2020
My project is struggling to gather and compile information / evidence for desk based evidence checks and our Q1 2020 claim. What flexibilities or reductions in evidence requirements can the Managing Authority introduce to enable us to submit claims for Q1 2020?
The ESF Managing Authority is currently exploring with the European Commission the potential for easements to ESF claim evidence requirements. Ahead of a firm position being provided by the Commission, funding recipients are asked to submit evidence in line with existing requirements. Further updates will be provided as soon as is possible.
Can the Managing Authority confirm its position on the following staff cost issues that have arisen as a result of COVID-19, including:
Claiming salary costs for staff wholly employed on the project (in particular, the ability to claim for sick-pay and/or for periods of self-isolation);
Claiming salary costs for staff partly employed on the project (in particular, the impact of reduced number of ‘on-project hours’ recorded on timesheets due to periods of self-isolation).
In line with the ESF National Eligibility Rules, the ESF Managing Authority can reimburse sick (or maternity) pay that is claimed if it is in line with the organisations’ staff policy or on the individual’s contract of employment. Alternatively, an organisation may claim for replacement staff costs but only if sick (or maternity) pay is not being claimed. We recognise that projects need clarification on submitting claims for people who need to self-isolate for a period of time – if an organisation would look to provide sick pay then they can submit a claim for salary costs for a period of self-isolating as per their policy or contract with the employee. If the organisation does not provide sick pay the Statutory Sick Pay would need to be considered for periods of self-isolation.
Coronavirus measures have led to staff and partners working from home/remote locations along with other challenges that are preventing us from receiving and providing wet signatures for Funding Agreements, Bank detail forms and evidence from participants of their activity. What arrangements can be put in place to avoid the requirement for wet signatures on documentation?
The ESF Managing Authority is currently exploring alternative arrangements to ensuring Funding Agreements and Bank Details can contain the necessary signatory requirement. We are also exploring with the European Commission potential easements for the certifying by participants of their activities on the programme.
The delivery/performance of our project including the achievement of our outputs/targets is being significantly affected by reduced levels of participation and new starters and us having to cancel or reduce face to face and group sessions. Meanwhile staff and related core costs need to be paid. What measures can the Managing Authority put in place to allow an appropriate reduction in outputs/targets and continued payment of projects/delivery partners that are paid on an output related basis?
We recognise the significant impact of COVID-19 and measures taken to combat it on organisations delivering ESF projects. The ESF Managing Authority is consulting the European Commission and exploring options for potential easements. Further information will be provided as soon as a clear position is established.
What business continuity related guidance/advice can the Managing Authority give to projects that rely significantly on group or face to face input and are adversely affected at this time, including by the impact of limited staffing resource?
We realise these are unprecedented and challenging circumstances and that organisations are working hard to develop solutions that enable support to individuals and groups to continue. We would encourage you to seek to deliver as much support as possible to participants taking into account Government advice.
My project has been approved and a Funding Agreement has been issued. I have significant reservations about starting my project at this time and wish to delay. What does the ESF Managing Authority advise?
Applicants are advised to sign the Funding Agreement and, should there be a need to delay the start of the project, the Managing Authority will be happy to discuss this and consider a change to the original start date. We are actively seeking a position from the European Commission regarding the longer term implications of COVID-19 on Programme delivery and will provide updates as soon as we are able.
I am responding to a published call but am encountering difficulties gathering information from partners / staff working remotely as consequence of the Coronavirus measures. Will current live call deadlines be extended to allow applicants more time?
Organisations in this situation should contact the ESF Managing Authority and their Local Enterprise Partnership. We recognise the challenges potential applicants are facing and the need for more time to develop applications – there is scope for call deadlines to be extended and the Managing Authority will consider these on a case by case basis.
As a consequence of COVID-19 we have incurred cancellation and other costs related to event bookings that cannot go ahead. Are these charges going to be treated as eligible expenditure by the Managing Authority?
We recognise that some projects will incur such charges relating to events and other commitments that have had to be cancelled or postponed due to the impact of COVID-19. Projects are asked to include details of such costs and supporting evidence in their next claim.
If you have any questions about this Action Note please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.