Whilst it may be tempting to ignore or put off the state aid risks as being too complex or too remote, there are good reasons for addressing these issues.
According to HESA (the company set up to collect data from higher education providers), UK higher education institutions collectively reported around £725 million in research grant income from EU government bodies in 2014/15. Given the values, perhaps it is not surprising that there has been a greater focus on state aid. Grant funding from EU or UK state resources gives rise to a problem when it gives private undertakings a commercial advantage which distorts competition
Failure to address state aid issues may affect your ability to drawdown the grant.
State aid is unlawful and will be required to be paid back with interest. It is treated as a material breach of grant funding terms and conditions, resulting in funding being suspended and claims rejected. Higher education institutions may also risk being in breach of their own financial covenants.
By getting advice early you can ensure your arrangements are structured to minimise state aid risk to you and your delivery partners and to maximise match contributions. This is important as there are strict rules on revenue generation and the maximum amount of overall grant funding that can be obtained in relation to a project. The good news is that research and development is generally recognised to be a good thing and there are often solutions to avoid state aid and available exemptions to rely on.
VWV has just appointed Stephanie Rickard as a Partner to lead its Procurement and State Aid team from its Bristol office. Stephanie has a particular interest and focus in the higher education sector and has advised higher education organisations, innovation centres, research organisations, technology start-ups on state aid issues.