European Social Fund

The European Social Fund (ESF) focuses on better skills, improving pathways into and within work, and addressing social inclusion.

In common with ERDF, there is a single ESF Operational Programme (OP) for England and delivery will be based on addressing locally identified priorities.

Unlike ERDF, some ESF delivery will take place through a framework of national ‘opt-in’ organisations (similar to the co-financing model in previous ESF programmes). However funding will also be available through open calls.

Approximately £36m of ESF funding is available in Norfolk and Suffolk between 2015 and 2020. ESF will typically fund up to half of the costs of any project. Therefore local match funding will be required.


National Programme Documents

A single ESF Operational Programme (OP) covers the whole of England. This is currently being finalised through national negotiations with the European Commission. The national OP will set the framework for investments that contribute towards local growth priorities.

To view the national ESF Operational Programme document, click here.


ESF Opt-Ins

The ‘opt-in’ framework provides a mechanism to work with national delivery organisations to match their funding with our local ESF allocations to provide fully funded provision – similar to co-financing under the previous ESF programme. We have agreed to opt-ins with the Skills Funding Agency and the Big Lottery Fund for the first three years of programme delivery.

The Skills Funding Agency will provide a procurement framework and match funding for the delivery of skills and employability service provision. The scope of SFA delivery will be determined locally and organisations on the SFA Register of Providers will be able to bid for contracts. The SFA Register is open for new providers on a regular basis.

The BIG Lottery opt-in is focused on social inclusion activity and will be delivered through grants rather than procurement. Local organisations will be able to bid to the Lottery to deliver activity against a specification that is locally defined. The first round of activity under this opt-in has now closed but we hope to have a further round later in the programme.



We have two ESF facilitators working across New Anglia who are able to support potential project applicants develop their ideas, and broker relationships between projects and partners. If you have a project idea, the facilitators are your first point of contact: