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

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