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Measuring the impact of European money on Welsh public services

16 May 2016

Cardiff Business School (with Shared Intelligence and IFF Research) has published the results of a three-year evaluation of the European Social Fund Local Service Board (ESF-LSB) Development and Priority Delivery Project.

The ESF-LSB Project comprised an expenditure of more than £13m on 38 projects across local authorities in Wales designed to improve outcomes for citizens in a wide range of policy areas such as health and social care, employment, transport, environment, and housing. The Project aimed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public services through collaborative working and by building the capacity of partner organisations to deliver higher quality services.

Using a wide range of evidence including two surveys of Welsh public services, in-depth case studies of seven projects, and documentary analysis of performance data, the report concluded the following:

  • There were a number of factors that helped to determine whether projects achieved their outcomes. These included:
    • having ambitious, realistic and measurable outcomes;
    • the role, skills and capacity of the project manager;
    • whether there were pre-existing collaborative partnerships in place;
    • the active engagement of all partner organisations;
    • the involvement of staff at all levels;
    • engagement of service users through co-production; and
    • a funded, legacy plan to sustain progress and outcomes.
  • The funding supported project managers and they played a very important role in keeping partners committed to the project and encouraging new ideas. There were concerns, however, about the lack of strategic leadership in driving the project forward, bringing partner organisations together and supporting project managers to get things done.
  • The survey reported that the level of integration and trust between partners was higher in ESF-LSB delivery projects than in other partnerships. The main barriers to learning and change across projects were the differing organisational cultures and a lack of time.
  • Projects seemed to lack the support they desired as just over half of participants strongly agreed that their Local Service Board had been supportive of the project. As the projects were focused on key priority areas of the LSB, we expected the level of agreement regarding the support received to have been higher.
  • Funding enabled partners to achieve outcomes sooner than would have been possible without financial support and to improve trust and understanding between partners in delivering together. Nearly seven in 10 ESF-LSB delivery project participants reported that at least some elements of the project had continued.

Overall, the evidence suggests that systems, processes and collaborative working arrangements have been put in place, and these are important intermediate steps to delivering better outcomes. However, it was difficult to assess whether these changes have led to improved outcomes for service users. Only a third of survey respondents strongly agreed that their project had delivered better services.

The learning from delivery projects’ experiences of collaboration could be transferable to a range of institutional contexts and locations. These include the Welsh Government - in terms of setting direction and devising policy regarding collaborative working within the sector - and for other local partnerships across Wales and more widely. It is not clear who is providing leadership and taking responsibility for sharing ‘good practice’.

Our analysis suggests that strong leadership, providing the authority and credibility to engage and galvanise partners, is crucial to facilitate learning within and between local areas and transfer knowledge about collaboration to the Welsh Government.

Following the publication of the report, Cardiff Business School’s Dr James Downe, said: “Our report shows how European money can be used to try and improve collaborative working and deliver higher quality services. We have provided a large number of recommendations for Welsh Government and local authorities which are designed to accelerate the progress being made and to ensure there is a legacy from the Project”.

Read the full report.