ESIF Programme Monitoring Committee meeting: September 2020

Papers from the September 2020 meeting of the European Structural and Investment Funds Programme Monitoring Committee (PMC).


Attendees and apologies

In attendance

  • Hilary Pearce (HP), Scottish Government (chair)
  • Susan Tamburrini (ST), Scottish Government
  • Ryan Gunn (RG), Scottish Government
  • Robert Buntin (RB), Scottish Government
  • Jennifer Inglis-Jones, Scottish Government
  • Anna Fowlie (AF), Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
  • Christine Mulligan (CM) (sub), Skill Development Scotland
  • Malcolm Leitch (ML) (sub), Scottish Local Authorities Economic Development (SLAED)
  • Francesca Giannini (FG) (sub), Scottish Enterprise (SE)
  • Rob Clarke (RC), Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Dave Roberts (DR), Highland Council
  • Andy McCann (AM), Highland Council
  • Gavin Bruce (GB) (sub), Scottish Funding Council
  • Kris Magnus (KM), European Commission DG Regio
  • Joanne Knight (JK), European Commission DG Regio
  • Carmen Gonzalez-Hernandez, European Commission DG Regio
  • Evert Veltkamp (EV), European Commission DG Emploi

Apologies

  • Rozanne Foyer, Scottish Trade Unions Congress
  • Diane Greenlees, Skill Development Scotland
  • Thomas Glen, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE)
  • Martin Johnson, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Liz Cameron, Scottish Chambers
  • Matt Lancashire, Scottish Council for Development & Industry
  • Grahame Smith, Scottish Trade Unions Congress
  • Damian Yeates, Skills Development Scotland
  • Douglas Colquhoun, Scottish Enterprise
  • Carroll Buxton, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Martin Smith, Scottish Funding Council

Items and actions

Welcome and introduction

HP welcomed members to the meeting, including observers from the European Commission (EC), extending this to HITC members who have joined the meeting.

HP amended order of circulated agenda, moving agenda item 07 (Future Funding) to the end of meeting as EC not to observe.

RB read out the list of apologies.

Minutes and action log from meeting on 22 June

HP offered each member the opportunity to make comment on the minutes and in turn, approve the minutes.

ML noted that he recognised how difficult it is to take minutes of a conference call, but added that the term “we” should be avoided as it is sometimes not clear who “we” refers to.

KM added he made a request for information to be made available at a more granular level in the performance report.

Minutes are agreed by members, noting the points raised.

Agenda items for discussion

ESF and ERDF programme/financial performance

CC noted that members have requested an update on the financial performance of the ESF and ERDF programme. A summary paper has been circulated to members detailing the financial performance of the programmes. The MA remains committed to working with members to support the continued delivery of the programmes and improve the performance. This is particularly relevant to help address the significant social and economic challenges presented by COVID-19.

AF noted a significant difference between committed funds and paid claims, querying if the reason for this is known and has COVID-19 impacted directly. HP advised she would defer to ST/RG on this, ST explained that staff continue to work remotely so the claim process should remain unaffected.

FG commented that the information in the paper is still unsatisfactory as it does not give members enough analysis to provide guidance or solutions to financial performance, adding that members should be provided with, for example an analysis of COVID-19 and re-profiling exercise and detail on the lack of ERDF claims in system. The paper only refers to issues with Lead Partners and not the MA staffing issues, being re-deployed due to COVID-19, etc.). HP responded that she understands FG was given an advanced copy and some comments were reflected in the paper. FG added they were not all reflected which is why she raised it.

HP explained in relation to re-profiling, this exercise is still on-going and some clarity is required on information so did not want to commit to a figure. RG added the MA will be going back to LPs to clarify some information and are doing so as soon as possible.

CM agreed with comments from FG, paper is using information on EUMIS but information could be given by Lead Partners to provide a more qualitative view on the programme. ESF claims in the system appears that the N+3 target would be met if they are paid but would need to know what stage of claims they are at.

ML endorsed comments made by FG, adding that the paper does not provide granular information and does not take into account what is happening “on the ground” in relation to outputs. ML added that he is disappointed the number of days to process claims has increased from 82 (Feb ’19) to 95 (now), querying why this is. ST explained there are additional steps at the request of audit.

DR noted all previous points and added that it was recognised at HITC that all LPs and MA are working at the best possible with the resources available, added that if there are a bunch of pending claims that take 95 days to impact N+3 the focus should be to clear those claims. HP added that pending claims are a top priority.

FG added in relation to N+3, querying the timescale for these claims to be paid and new claims added to meet N+3. ST explained by mid-October, it would be cutting it a bit tight for N+3. ML added to note once a claim has been submitted, LPs don’t just get another claim added on as there are often change requests to be input and EUMIS only allows one or the other at a time. HP explained we need to work with what we have as EUMIS is the system that will remain. 

Annual implementation reports (AIRs)

HP opened up to members for comments.

AM noted issues affecting performance varies between ESF/ERDF, one is very detailed whereas the other is a bit shorter. RG explained he is happy to look into it but added it could be down to individual performance issues.

ML noted concerns over the accuracy of some descriptions, HP asked him to work with RG offline to address this which ML noted he was happy to do.

RC noted the Citizens Summary maybe does not give someone who does not know about ESIF much information.

GB noted there are a couple of references to SFC within the AIRs but happy to send an email to RG regarding this.

HP asked members who will be submitting comments to do so quickly to allow for revised draft to be circulated to members early next week.

Action 1: Members to work with RG to refine wording contained within AIR’s.

ESF and ERDF programme suspension

HP explained that the EC have agreed to proposal of submitting evidence to them in two batches, which includes all findings on the EPSA report.

AF raised that the paper is factual and there is no conclusion to the information, what does it mean in real life. HP explained the paper presents the positive work the MA have undertaken but need the Programme Board to sign it off before it goes to the EC.

AM noted that the timelines are the main concern. HP explained no timelines can be provided as it will be dependent on when the EC are able to make the decisions.

JI joined the call at this stage.

JI explained that audit are fairly hopeful that the suspension will be lifted. KM added that the general aim is to have the suspension lifted as soon as possible but unable to say much more than that.

FG asked if the MA could give an update on how the desk based Article 125 visits are going. ST explained they have only really just started so it is probably too early to give an update on this at the moment.

ML noted thanks for the information, asking if the MA are still looking to lift the suspension on both programmes at one time. HP explained the unit cost exercise only applies to ESF whereas the key requirements apply to both ESF and ERDF so have to be taken together but lifting suspension on both is on the key requirements.

JI added that both ESF and ERDF have indicated that they will only sign off once both sides are happy.

HP further added that she can assure there are no intentions to freeze payments to LPs, whilst it cannot be guaranteed regular close dialogue is maintained with finance colleagues and is being monitored at all times.

DR noted that on the retrospective checks, whilst meeting evidence requirements originally, where do LPs stand if they now don’t meet the requirements and may not be able to provide new evidence if it was not gathered. ST explained currently doing retrospective checks now and updating previous checks to bring in line with MCS with no issues identified.

COVID-19 response fund

HP opened up to members for comments.

AF noted the paper refers to SME’s and business, does that mean it is only going to be private business that is eligible. ST explained social enterprises are SME’s so they would be eligible.

AM noted he appreciates a lot more thinking needs to be done and from PMC point of view the paper does not give detail to do what PMC is required to do. HP explained the MA will be writing to LPs to advise on how to re-focus, etc.

GB asked if there is any more information available for SME’s to provide support, etc. ST explained the MA have been in discussion with the EC in respect of flexibilities CRII and CRII+ offer but does need to be in response directly to COVID-19.

ML noted that he regrets to say he is disappointed by the paper provided and lack of progress since lengthy conversation at last meeting in June adding that he is keen to open up early conversations on the amendments of the Operational Programmes to LPs who would be interested in revising descriptions to allow for more to be delivered.

Risk register

HP opened up to members for comments.

FG noted comments on two risks (7 and 8). For risk 7, IT system confidence level is noted as reasonable wonders if this is accurate given earlier conversations. For risk 8, does not agree with this being green as she feels it could still be improved, around N+3 etc.

CM noted the paper indicated ESF N+3 as a risk but this might not be an issue so risk would might need to be adjusted.

ML noted in relation to risk 13, his understanding is that the withdrawal agreement would need to comply with EU Framework.

DR added he would submit comments from HITC to RG and RB.

Communications update

HP opened up to members for comments on this paper but no comments were received.

HP thanked the EC for joining and providing comments, adding that the MA will work on the sections of the AIRs over the next few days to meet the EC deadline.

EC observers all left the call at this stage.

Future funding

HP explained she did not feel it was appropriate for EC to observe the discussion on future funding. HP added the paper provided to members pre-dates internal market bill, although this does not specifically mention Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) but does hint at it. Work has been ongoing through the Steering Group but IMB puts a spanner in the works.

ML added he is heavily involved in the Steering Group but will need to read IMB.

General consensus from members being that need to work to ensure best for Scotland.

AOB

HP opened up to members for AOB but no other business was raised.

Date of next meeting

HP advised the date of the next meeting is still to be confirmed.

Action log

Action 1: members to work with RG to refine wording contained within AIR’s. Owner = MA, status = ongoing.

Agenda and minutes from the previous meeting

PMC 04-00: meeting agenda

PMC 04-02: minutes of previous meeting

Discussion papers

PMC 04-05: ESF & ERDF Programme Suspension

PMC 04-06: Covid-19 Response Fund - 10 September 2020

PMC 04-07: Future Funding Update

PMC 04-08: ESF and ERDF Risk Register - 10 September 2020

PMC 04-09: Update on Communications Strategy

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