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The European Social Network (ESN) organised its first national event in Stockholm, Sweden, in the framework of the Social Services HelpDesk project to improve accessibility to EU funding.

The event aimed to explore the challenges social services face in accessing and managing programmes financed with EU funds. The forum brought together managing authorities in Sweden, responsible for awarding EU funds, and representatives from authorities who plan social services and provider organisations.

Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN’s CEO presented the background of the initiative, giving context to the needs that have been identified and how the project aims to improve knowledge about how social services can use the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) and the European Regional Development Fund to provide European social services solutions and tools to improve their access to European funds and for managing authorities to understand better the needs that social services have.

 “There is a lack of understanding of how social services work -sometimes even within countries. Identifying barriers in cooperation between the authorities responsible for planning social services and those managing the funds is key to ensure that funds cascade down to those who need them the most” underlined Mr. Montero.

Participants from local government authorities, intermediate bodies and social service providers expressed their views, making clear that there is a need for support for social services to be more effectively supported to access and manage EU funding. 

One particular issue highlighted was the lack of proper consultation with interested organisations in submitting proposals for funding ahead in the preparation of the call for proposals. Tina Trygg, Process Manager at Storsthlm, organisation that supports social services in the Stockholm region municipalities access funding, said: “We try to help smaller municipalities which do not have the capacity to access funding in the region. There are similar organisations in other regions but we need national workshops too.”

Suzanna Nytell, Advisor to the City of Stockholm Social Services Department, expressed the need for better communication channels between managing authorities and local social services, in particular she highlighted “the need to be involved in shaping and influencing calls, to be ready when these are launched, to have already the necessary knowledge to help encourage  applications.”

Further issues discussed covered the lack of a preparation phase before the call for applications is launched, the complexity of ESF regulations and long administrative procedures.

The fruitful exchange of views and the material collected will be summarised in a report, which will be used  to design and create tools to support managing authorities, intermediate bodies, public authorities with responsibility for social services and providers.

This event was the first step towards understanding the issues faced by social services, the different organisations involved, and a way forward to raise awareness among social services of existing EU funding opportunities and how they can make use of them. If used in the right way, these funds can make a difference to the vulnerable communities with whom social services work every day.