Structurally Excluded? Structural embeddedness and voluntary sector competition for European Social Funds in Wales
Rumbul, Rebecca (2012)

by Rebecca Rumbul, Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University

The Welsh voluntary sector has, over the last 12 years, received significant sums from the European Social Fund (ESF). Whilst research has highlighted weaknesses in the original 2000-2006 programming period, the 2007-2013 programmes were hailed as bigger, better formulated, and more strategic in their approach to reducing economic disadvantage in Wales. The involvement of the voluntary sector was cited as key in achieving this goal, however, a question mark lingered over individual organisation’s ability to engage in the kind of projects required. With another tranche of funds on the horizon, this paper considers how voluntary organisations fared in gaining funds from the 2007-2013 programmes, and what, if any, barriers were found to exist in acquiring those funds. It proposes that structural embeddedness plays a significant role in determining organisational success in gaining ESF funds. This paper draws evidence from a case study on one Welsh ESF partnership funded under the 2007-2013 programme, the governing bodies responsible for the funds, and a range of voluntary sector groups interested in gaining ESF funds. It argues that it is those organisations that are structurally embedded through institutionalised links with the public sector that will be most successful in gaining ESF funds, as it is these that are invited into large, partnership projects. Organisations not benefitting from long-term relationships with the public sector that do not share its norms and values, could become structurally excluded. The paper concludes by considering the implications of this for the Welsh voluntary sector, and the prospect of achieving ESF targets in light of this.


Rebecca is currently Manager of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. Rebecca’s early career was in grants-making, having worked in posts for both the Arts Council of Wales and the Big Lottery Fund, before going on to manage at youth charity Fairbridge Cymru. After leaving Fairbridge, Rebecca took up a post with the Information Commissioners Office as Data Protection Development Manager whilst studying for her PhD in European Governance in Wales. During this time she also worked as a development consultant in Cameroon for an international NGO through the Wales for Africa programme. Rebecca is currently a member of the Steering Group for the UK’s Changing Union project, and has been a member of the Grant Advisory Panel for Environment Wales, which funds grass roots environmental projects, for five years.

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