Friday, July 21, 2006

LESSONS LEARNT FROM MANAGING STRUCTURAL FUND PROGRAMMES: AN ENGLISH VIEW

LESSONS LEARNT FROM MANAGING STRUCTURAL FUND PROGRAMMES: AN ENGLISH VIEW

Overview:

The aim is to identify key aspects of successful programme management, providing a basis for effective delivery during 2007-13. The methodology is to consider aspects of Programme management, based on considerable personal experience. Issues to be examined include:

The difficulties of keeping a balance between maintaining quality in interventions, while meeting challenging annual expenditure targets: successful delivery.

The contributions that formal and informal evaluations and a more rigorous approach to project monitoring can make to successful programme management.

The roles of the Managing Authority, the Programme Secretariat and partnerships in successful programme delivery.

Wherever possible, practical advice and suggestions, based on experience, and with a view to helping others to avoid difficult management issues will be offered.

1) Introduction: personal and organisational information;

I have been involved in the preparation, management, delivery and evaluation of Objective 2 Structural Funds Programmes since 1989. The current Programme cycle is my fifth. My present position is Team Leader, European Strategy and Communications in the North East of England Programme Secretariat, based in Government Office North East.

2) Background: region, programme or project to be presented;

The region’s Objective 2 Programme is valued at 746m euros (80% ERDF, 20% ESF).

At the time of writing (September 2005) the North East is the only English region to have met its three N+2 targets for 2005: ERDF and ESF Objective 2 and ESF Objective 3.

3). Delivery (1) the right projects

Experience shows that Structural Fund Programmes can be heavily over subscribed: demand for resources can easily outstrip supply. To help to balance the equation selection procedures are needed: many models have been developed, and a common starting point, in the interests of transparency, is the scoring system, with points awarded or deducted for a variety of factors. But there is a danger that numerical selection processes reward the best writers of applications, and not necessarily the best projects. This approach to selection should preferably be supplemented with a degree of subjectivity.

An alternative to open ended competition and selection is commissioning. This is a process whereby partners agree a specification for projects, and then Programme Managers go about the business of identifying organisations that are capable of bringing the right projects forward.

For this process to work, the partnership must have agreed a strategic direction for the programme – and this feeds back to the need to get the Programme right at the preparation stage.

4) Delivery (2): N+2

It is vital that projects demonstrate sound financial performance because there is a direct relationship with Programme performance: if the projects that make up a Programme are not spending to schedule then the risk of decommitment of funds under the N+2 rule becomes greater.

To avoid N+2 penalties Programme managers must ensure that systems are in place to identify projects that are not performing well, and be ready to provide assistance – in submitting claims for example – or take remedial action – including withdrawing support from under performing projects. Tactics that have been developed include the categorisation of projects as red, amber or green, with red projects being those that have missed a payment claim or are more than 20% away from their projected expenditure profile. This information needs to be checked every month, and steps taken to move projects form re d to green or amber. Where significantly underperformance is noted, new contracts are negotiated, and funds that are freed are recycled to projects that can demonstrate a good expenditure record.

5) Evaluation and Monitoring

Although Programmes are evaluated at three stages in the life cycle, the mid term stage is probably the most important. This evaluation is equivalent to a Programme health check. A successful evaluation will be hard hitting and completely impartial. It should draw attention to aspects of the Programme that are not succeeding and should conclude with a dynamic set of recommendations, to be maintained by the partnership. Failure to act on recommendations represents a failure to deliver a high quality programme.

The current mid term update is an interesting exercise in checking and validating performance data. Early results in NE England confirm that there are wide variations in the way organisations calculate outputs such as jobs, visitor numbers and SME turnover.

Informal evaluation work – conducted at the request of the partnership and looking at particular aspects of Programme content or processes is also a valuable tool in driving up quality.

Evaluation and monitoring are two ends of the same spectrum. A good monitoring visit will share the same characteristics of a successful evaluation. In recent experience monitoring has revealed where projects are seriously deficient, particularly when it comes to meeting the requirements of the SG Regulations in fields such as retention of documents, procurement and publicity. Failure on any of these fronts can result in grant repayment, as evidenced by recent audit visits. Monitoring is also an important component in the N+2 process, providing the monitoring team with an opportunity to look carefully at the realism of expenditure forecasts.

6) Role of Managing Authority

The use of the word “Managing” is vital: Programmes do not run themselves – the many actors in a Programme rarely see the sum of the parts but understandably tend to focus on their own project(s) or field of interest. It is the role of programme managers to bring the parts together into a coherent whole.

But successful management requires also flexibility and the ability to manage competing partner expectations while remaining broadly impartial or neutral in the process of securing funds.

A key function of the Managing Authority is to ensure that dealings with the Commission during the life of the programme are effective. In a successfully managed programme the Commission’s profile should be low – engaging the partnership only through events such as PMC meetings.
7) Proactive Secretariat: skills and experience

The Secretariat is the embodiment of the Managing Authority – and to manage successfully it needs to be able to deploy a wide range of skills in a proactive fashion. These skills should include expertise in regional and economic development, awareness of project appraisal methodologies, financial management (including accountancy skills) and dedicated expertise in publicity and communications and the cross cutting themes.

This body of expertise should not be confined to an office but should be deployed throughout the partnership, building relationships and maintaining a constructive dialogue with all organisations involved in the Programme.

Crucially, the Secretariat can not wait for things to happen, but must be involved in a constant process of tasks such as helping to develop the type of projects that the Programme needs, chasing and checking expenditure claims, actively monitoring as many projects as possible and disseminating best practice .

8) Role of partnership

While the Secretariat can take the lead in bringing the Programme together and ensuring that it is meeting its performance and financial objectives this can best be achieved by helping to develop capacity in the partnership so that organisations participating in the Programme have their own experts who can meet Programme managers’ requirements. Ideally every project should have its own champion – a nominated official who can guide the project through its life from pre-application to final claim stages.

Also, opportunities should be given for personnel from the partnership to become more aware of the Programme as a whole, through activities such as secondment to, or work shadowing in, the Secretariat.

9) The Future

The draft Structural fund Regulations envisage that many of the practices and themes of the current Programming period will continue. Certainly the well established principles of partnership, evaluation, added value, effective financial management and delivery will remain at the heart of Programme implementation.

But the future will be different. New levels of strategic context will sharpen the content and focus of Programmes; the removal of the Programme Complement will simplify matters especially regarding financial management whereby the ability to carry out transactions at priority, rather than Measure, level is very welcome. A question mark remains over the Performance Reserve: if it is abandoned then one of the most key justifications for ensuring that projects are delivering relevant outputs will be removed. N+2 will remain – and there is still much to be learnt about successfully avoiding decommitment.

10) Conclusions

To conclude, a definition of successful Programme management is offered:

“Ensuring that the Programme includes high quality projects, all helping to ensure that financial and performance targets are met in the context of a clear strategic direction that is supported by a partnership that is committed to meeting Programme objectives.“

Communication details:

Peter Smith - Team Leader, European Strategy and Communications
Government Office North East, Citygate, Gallowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE3 4WHWebsite: europeanfundingne.co.uk E mail: peter.smith@gone.gsi.gov.uk

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