The Government has been warned that as many as 164 university-led skills and training projects could be halted or axed due to European funding running out by the end of next year – reducing skills and training support for SMEs.
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) will award £2.6 billion of new funding for local investment by March 2025 in place of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), which the UK is no longer eligible for following Brexit.
According to advocacy organisation Universities UK, following the UK’s departure from the European Union, urgent action is needed from the Government to bridge the funding gap while it sets up its replacement for EU funding for local skills and training partnerships.
Support for small businesses essential
Universities UK is the collective voice of 140 centres of learning across the UK whose mission is to help universities be the best in the world, through their research and teaching, and the positive impact they have locally, nationally and globally.
It says that vital training, skills development, and jobs are at risk as is the retraining, upskilling and support for small businesses essential to the success of levelling up.
- There are currently 192 university-led projects in England, funded by £412 million of ESIF money, providing high-quality skills training, and supporting local pay, employment, and productivity growth, with half working with small and medium-sized businesses.
- In Wales, there are 53 projects led by universities with £300 million investment from ESIF.
Uncertainty on the allocation of the UKSPF will leave a significant gap in funding, putting vital community projects and the jobs of experienced staff at risk, according to Universities UK
The type of projects that could be impacted include:
The FLEXIS App project, led by Cardiff University, is generating green and economic growth across Wales through industrial partnerships. The project has received most of its funding, almost £3 million from the ESIF programme, which runs out in November 2022.
Productivity Through Innovation (PTI) is a project delivered by Nottingham Trent University, University of Nottingham and University of Derby to help around 200 local SMEs increase turnover, competitiveness and profitability. The project is receiving £3.5 million from the ESIF – half its total funding – which runs out in March 2023.
The University of Manchester’s Bridging The Gap programme, delivered by the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), accelerates the adoption and commercialisation of graphene and 2D materials. The programme has engaged with more than 200 SMEs, generating new products and jobs. The project is receiving £1.9m from ESIF, which will end in December 2022.
Universities UK has written to Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, Michael Gove, outlining the university sector’s concerns around the initial plans for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.