EU rural training schemes costly and badly managed, auditors find

20 Oct 15

European Union-funded rural training programmes are “poorly managed and cost too much”, the European Court of Auditors has said.

From 2007-13, €1.3bn was set aside from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development for projects aimed at revitalising rural areas through vocational education and training programmes. Member states’ co-financing brought total public support for such projects to €2.2bn, and this is expected to exceed €4bn in the 2014-20 funding period.

But the auditors said projects are too expensive, often duplicate existing programmes and favour established training providers. It criticises member states for poor management and the European Commission for poor supervision.

Jan Kinšt, the ECA member responsible for the report, said: “Training should respond to identified needs and be provided at reasonable cost by qualified and experienced trainers. But too often this is simply not happening.”

Responding to the report, Daniel Rosario, spokesman for the European Commission’s Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, said that while the commission “provides guidance and support” to member states in the programming process, the selection of projects and their implementation is member state’s “sole responsibility”.

In its assessment of whether the commission and member states had adequate control systems in place, the ECA visited Spain, Austria, Poland, Sweden and the UK ‒ covering more than 65% of relevant expenditure.

The auditors found that member states relied too much on trainers’ proposals and did not effectively analyse these, risking the financing of irrelevant or duplicate activities. Some of the training supported was 10 times more expensive than equivalent courses already available.

In addition, the report said member states were not strict enough in evaluating what training to finance, considering “any type of training as ‘good’ and eligible for public funding”.

A lack of fair and transparent selection favoured long-standing and well-established providers who were recurrently selected and received the most funding, the auditors also said.

A number of recommendations for improvement for member states are suggested, including improving the assessment of qualifications and experience of training providers and assessing the need to support activities that are already available on the market at a reasonable price.

Training and advice providers should not only provide information on participant satisfaction but also test whether they have actually learnt what they were supposed to, the report said.

Rosario noted that as some of the shortcomings pointed out by the ECA were already identified in the commission’s own audit, the few recommendations addressed specifically towards the commission are already being implemented in the 2014-2020 period.

He said: “Whenever the EU budget is found to be mismanaged the commission applies financial corrections.

“The commission encourages member states to put into place functioning and transparent procedures and take into account the auditor’s recommendations.”

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