Seek help to unlock EU millions, firms in Essex are told

George Kieffer.

George Kieffer.

Millions of pounds of European cash is available to businesses but bewildering red tape can hold them back, a regional conference was told last week.

Around 70 delegates attended the first ever Essex Means Business Project Europe event in Chelmsford on Thursday, which was organised by Essex County Council’s Funding and Investment Team.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and Infrastructure, said the conference was “a great success”.

“There is millions of pounds of funding available, but EU bureaucracy can leave businesses bewildered,” he said.

“I hope delegates went away feeling that they had the key to Europe’s safes.”

George Kieffer, chair of the South East Shadow European Structural Investment Fund Committee, told delegates that £180million is available to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which covers Essex, Southend, Thurrock, Kent, Medway and East Sussex, from 2014 to 2020.

The biggest funds are the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund.

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The £83m European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is aimed at innovation, supporting competitiveness in small and medium-sized enterprises, and the shift to a low carbon economy. This considerably widens its scope from the 2007-13 period, when it was restricted in the East of England to low carbon projects.

“The scope is much wider and targets those sectors that require support. Bring us your ideas and projects and we can advise you whether they meet the criteria. All the funds require match-funding by the beneficiaries of at least 50%, doubling the investment in the SELEP and Essex economy,” said Mr Kieffer.

European Social Fund cash – a total of £83m – is available for employability, social inclusion and skills development projects. SELEP will be working with the Department for Work & Pensions and the Skills Funding Agency, which will bring match-funding for three quarters of the amount available to target priorities outlined in SELEP’s European Structural & Investment Funds Strategy. The remaining quarter will be match-funded by Big Lottery and will support social inclusion and combating poverty, he explained.

There is also money available from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. The £14.5m fund is available for rural medium, small and micro enterprises and projects covering tourism, knowledge and skills of the rural economy, renewables and broadband.

“The Funding and Investment Team at Essex County Council have a track record of success helping applicants for European funding and I urge you to involve them early on to help you frame applications and complete the supporting paper-work,” said Mr Kieffer.