Those of you who have been keeping up with the Commission’s appearances will have spotted a new feature of European funding programming for 2014-2020 – the Partnership Agreement (PA). The Partnership Agreement will be at Member State level, but for the UK each country will have a separate Agreement within the overall PA. The Partnership Agreement works in two ways – as a direction setter, helping us prioritise all the things we hope to achieve with the funds; and as a summary of the Operational Programmes, showing how they will deliver against Europe 2020.
The Partnership Agreement doesn’t just cover structural funds – it also covers rural development and fisheries funds. That doesn’t mean that the funds will do everything together, but it does give us a chance to assess what each of those funds is doing, or could do, which would complement each other and all told add up to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Scotland. It also gives us a chance to tell the story of all the funds and their achievement together for the first time.
Work is underway over the summer to look at how the funds can deliver the thematic objectives, what community led local development and integrated territorial development might look like in Scotland, starting to build the evidence base we need to underpin and justify our spending decisions from 2014 onwards.
How, for example, can all the funds help build a low carbon economy in Scotland? If structural funds invest in energy efficiency in housing and SMEs, and in renewable energy generation and distribution; and rural development funds invest in afforestation and other carbon sequestration measures, is that enough?
How do we get close links between employability and skills initiatives and investment which creates jobs – so that those newly skilled individuals have somewhere to go and apply their skills?
And not least, what’s not as important in Scotland, because with less funding, we will definitely have to prioritise some things over others? What can we afford for EU funding not to focus on, either because it’s already funded or done by others, or because we think it could be?
To borrow a summer-appropriate sporting cliché, we are definitely asking some big questions here – and I’m sure there are many who would quite like us to come up with some sensible answers!
The work we’re doing at the moment is really getting us thinking about how to construct the structural funds programmes as well, because without programmes, no Partnership Agreement. We’ll be launching a little survey at you shortly to start gauging what you think should be in the structural funds programmes, but, in the meantime, please do feel free to leave any comments here on which thematic objectives and priorities are important for Scotland (and which ones aren’t!).