Financial and administrative staff from the H2020 BrightnESS and its SINE2020 projects met on June 27 and 28 in Lund to exchange best practices and tools on how to best implement and manage both research projects.
The meeting took place following a letter by the Commission’s RTD Director-General Robert-Jan Smits in February this year, in which he pointed out that across all FP7 and H2020 projects the EC Auditors continue to find mistakes in the beneficiaries’ cost declarations. This resulted, in Smits’ view, in costly cost recovery orders and additional administrative burden to project consortia. By spending more time on really understanding the relevant Commission Guidelines, a lot of these errors could be overcome, hopefully resulting in “an error-free 2016”. BrightnESS and SINE2020 took up this challenge and held a two-day event in which they invited two Commission Auditors to explain the main changes from FP7 to H2020, discuss the major financial and administrative risks and pitfalls and discuss what to expect from the final audit procedure to take place at the end of the projects.
The first day of the meeting – in which the administrators discussed amongst themselves – showed that although H2020 has been ongoing for some time, the interpretation of specific articles from the H2020 Financial Guidelines and the Annotated Grant Agreement can still be different. This can have significant implications for cost eligibility of the scientific work done in both projects. The discussions showed the importance of a balance between formal reporting requirements from the European Commission as the funding body, and practical day-to-day issues like keeping precise timesheets, depreciation of equipment or even how to handle exchange rate differences. The meeting also helped to initiate a network among the consortia administrators in order to enhance exchange of good practices. By being able to ask each other about their experience in solving a particular matter, both projects hope that the administrative and financial implementation within each of the partner organisations will become even more streamlined with the least amount of risk of delays due to administrative complications.
The second day of the meeting was filled with presentations by the two European Commission Auditors who provided first-hand information about the audit process in general. In H2020, Certificates of Financial Statements will only take place at the very end of the project, meaning that it is often too late to correct mistakes made in the early years of the project, as was the case with financial certificates in FP7 taking place in each reporting period. The EC did not perform yet any official audit of H2020 projects, as they all just started. In several areas the auditing rules and requirements are significantly different from FP7. It was therefore important for the administrators of both projects to receive in-depth knowledge about these changes and ask the auditors detailed questions. The participants felt that the auditors’ presentations are of great value, because incorporating the changes correctly now helps speeding up the actual payments.