Thursday, May 16, 2013

Looking for the future: money available, simplification of rules for funding needed

Sun is shining, skies are blue and summer is approaching, so one might think that the there is still long time until this year ends. However, I sometimes feel that there is very little time as the end of the year is also the end of several European Structural & Investment Funds programmes 2007-2013, that have offered financing for a large amount of projects for UBC. For us, the most important ones have been Baltic Sea Region Programme and Central Baltic Programme. Luckily, there is already some seed money available for the next programming period 2014-2020. Seed money is funding for preparing new projects. In our region, it’s possible to apply seed money to prepare projects that contribute to implementing the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Partners that receive this seed money will draft a project plan and further develop it into a project application to any of the EU or national funding sources e.g. the European Structural & Investment Funds programmes 2014-2020.

For me, as Financial Manager at UBC EnvCom, it is of great interest to see what are the rules concerning eligibility of costs and financial reporting. To my delight, I noticed that for this seed money, the reporting is simplified as much as possible. This is the development I hope to see also in the actual new funding programmes for 2014-2020. I still remember my reaction after realising how much heavier reporting is needed in period 2007-2013 compared to the previous period 2000-2006. I can admit that I was a bit stunned. In practise, highly detailed financial reporting proved to be just what I expected: extremely time and resources consuming.

The seed money facility, however, is using flat rates for most of the costs categories, such as personnel costs, organising events and travel costs regarding daily allowances and accommodation. Only costs that need to be reported against invoice are the actual travel costs, such as train or flight. Most likely, the next programmes will not be that straightforward but I really hope that flat rates are applied. Another feature that I would like to see in Structural and Investment Funds programmes is the return of overheads. When costs, such as office rent, telephones and office supplies, would be included as indirect costs, the financial reporting would be simplified. This could be done with a flat rate percentage of either personnel costs or total costs. When reports prepared by project partners are simplified, also checking the report will be easier both for the auditors and for the staff of the programme secretariats. It the end, it benefits us all, as all the work time used for financial reporting is paid by EU tax payers.

Having said that, I don’t advocate for uncontrolled spending of tax payers’ money; my message is the simplification of the rules and reporting requirements. I know I’m not alone. According to the latest news of the preparation of the Baltic Sea Region Programme 2014-2020 all member states agreed that “rules for funding need to be simplified and differences between similar programmes' rules need to be minimised”.

Looking forward to new programming period and welcoming new simplified rules for funding!

Sanna Erkko, Financial Manager at UBC EnvCom

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Learning about the water footprint with Otty the Otter

In the recent years social media, mobile apps and other forms of digital communication have grown more and more important as part of educating and communicating with the cities and their inhabitants. With this the time had come for us to venture off to game design. A mobile game called Otty the Otter was developed as part of an  environmental education and awareness raising project, “Baltic Sea needs Actions 2012–2013”.

With it’s bright colors and friendly otter character the game is aiming to teach kids about the water footprint by the means of play. In the game Otty the Otter adventures between Turku and St Petersburg on his red kick bike. The goal is to use as little water as possible while also collecting food items in order to keep up his energy. Without understanding the balance between these items it is not possible to finish the game as Otty will run out of energy and just fall asleep on his tracks. 

Otty will be available for multiple platforms, both desktop and mobile.

The game is developed by the Union of the Baltic Cities, Commission on Environment Secretariat. The game developers: Stella Aaltonen, Graphics: Sari Sariola, Code: Kaj-Michael Lang.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Experiencing innovations and new cooperation perspectives in water management at WASSER BERLIN INTERNATIONAL

Cooperation under the framework of international project PRESTO has accelerated recently. After successful Water Management Policy Forum organized in March 2013 in Minsk (Belarus), PRESTO partners visited “Wasser Berlin International” Congress and Trade Fair in Berlin (Germany) on 23 April 2013. This world-leading exhibition on innovative technology in water supply and treatment is attended biennially by 28 000 visitors and creates perfect platform for discussions with international experts on a variety of water-related topics. Congress helps specialists to improve their expertise, learn how other countries address water management challenges and provide networking opportunities in highly dynamic water market. Using this opportunity, PRESTO partners not only visited the Congress but also organised a Belarusian Country Forum open for external visitors.

Among invited speakers there was a representative of Ministry of Housing and Communal Services of the Republic of Belarus, Mr. Siarhei Tsimoshkin; Mr. Rüdiger Heidebrecht, Head of Department Training and International Cooperation from DWA - German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste and Mr. Bernd Zacharias, Head of Regional Section Russia of German Water Partnership.  

Speakers at the Forum: Siarhei Tsimoshkin, Rüdiger Heidebrecht, Vladimir Anoufriev, Bernd Zacharias; facilitation: Matthias Barjenbruch, Technical University of Berlin.
Photo by Agnieszka Ilola, UBC EnvCom.
Mr. Tsimoshkin in his speech highlighted the importance of public-private collaboration and stated that currently, based on a call from the Belarusian government, a new law on public-private partnerships is being developed, and that in the future it will foster investments in the water sector. Moreover, he admitted that the Ministry of Communal Services and Housing of Belarus is elaborating further ways of cooperation in reducing nutrient inputs to the Baltic Sea. For that the Ministry, together with the regional Departments of housing and communal services, searches for water and sewage utilities that directly affect the state of the Baltic Sea drainage area, to encourage their participation in the new projects with international investments for the advanced treatment technologies. ”It is evident that exchanging of experiences and knowledge in the projects like PRESTO can contribute to mutual understanding and accelerate the future cooperation process” Mr. Tsimoshkin said.

Mr. Rüdiger Heidebrecht, Head of Department Training and International Cooperation from DWA - German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste (Hennef) presented international activities of DWA and invited PRESTO partners to collaboration with other leading European water alliances as IWA (International Water Association), EWA (European Water Association) or GWP (German Water Partnership).

After the Forum all partners had a chance to participate in the guided tour at the Trade Fair organized by the Technical University of Berlin and get familiar with the latest trends in pipeline engineering, water construction machinery, measuring and analysis technology and equipment.
For more information please visit our website at

PRESTO partners visiting fair's stand of Grundfos, one of the world's leading pump manufacturers.
Photo by Agnieszka Ilola, UBC EnvCom.

Text by: Agnieszka Ilola, UBC EnvCom, Project Officer, PRESTO Project