NICVA’s Policy and Public Affairs Update September 2021
On the 6th July, NICVA CEO Seamus McAleavey and Geoff Nuttall Head of Policy & Public Affairs met with the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) to discuss the emerging proposals for the Council-led local partnerships that will be established under the forthcoming PeacePlus Programme. The meeting provided an opportunity for NICVA to reflect the views and concerns of the voluntary and community sector organisations in relation to how they will be involved in the new partnerships. Read more here.
On 9th July, Geoff was invited to join a panel of speakers to debate the merits of introducing a compulsory register for organisations involved in lobbying in Northern Ireland. The event was hosted by the University of Ulster and chaired by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) as part of a consultation they are carrying out on the proposal for a NI Lobbying Register. As the only voluntary/community sector voice on the panel, Geoff was able to highlight the concerns raised by many sector organisations that they are already over-regulated with regards to lobbying not only under Charities Legislation, but also the UK Lobbying Act which has created additional uncertainty and fear around lobbying; discouraging some organisations from their very valid and important role in challenging and seeking to improve policy for the public good. He was able to argue strongly that introducing a lobbying register that placed a requirement on voluntary and community organisations to register would be both unnecessary and not in the public interest if it further discouraged sector organisations from playing this vital role.
In July and August, The Policy & Public Affairs Team held two meetings bringing together the voluntary and community sector representatives on the Department for Communities Anti-Poverty Strategy Co-Design Group tasked with informing the strategies development. The aim of these meetings was to reflect on the process of sector engagement to date; and on the development of the emerging strategy, and to agree common sector priorities and concerns regarding for NICVA to reflect to the Department of Communities who are overseeing the strategies development. As a result NICVA raised concerns on behalf of the group on: the lack of tangible feedback on the input provided by the sector to date and of cross-departmental engagement; the need for greater ambition in the vision of the strategy (i.e. to eradicate rather than simply ‘minimise’ poverty); and the need to rename the group a ‘Stakeholder Reference Group’ to more accurately reflect the actual role and level of input the Group had had to date and the limitations of the co design process. With some of these concerns now being taken on board and addressed, NICVA will continue to engage on behalf of the sector to support its important role in shaping this and other key inclusion strategies.
Throughout this quarter the Policy and Public Affairs Team has continued to work closely with sector organisations in representing their views and concerns to NI and UK government on the extension of the current EU funding through the European Social Fund and the development of local and UK government programmes to meet needs previously met by EU programmes. Alongside directly responding to organisations concerns and information needs regarding, this has included meetings and ongoing engagement with the NI Departments of Economy and Communities on future domestic strategy and funding programmes; meetings with the Northern Ireland Office and UK Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund designed to replace EU funding; and hosting a visit at NICVA of the UK Cabinet Office’s ‘Levelling Up Unit’ responsible for the development and implementation of a range of future ‘levelling up’ funds.
We continue to support and make representation on behalf of those sector organisations, whose work is directly impacted by the loss of EU funds via the NICVA ESF Users Group. We held two meetings of the group during this quarter, including a meeting with senior Department of Economy and Communities officials in response to decision making on the ESF Succession planning project; ongoing uncertainty with regard to EU replacement funds, including the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and to update organisations on progress re: the current DfE Call 3 Application Process for ESF Funding.
We have continued our support and active membership of a range of key working groups, coalitions, and alliances, reflective of key policy concerns and interests of the sector and those they serve.
This has included membership of the:
- Cliff Edge Coalition NI, a coalition working to extend and strengthen the current welfare mitigations package.
- ‘Bill of Rights for NI’ Working Group hosted by the Human Rights Consortium
- UK Brexit Civil Society Alliance
- Equality Coalition Working Group
- Integrated Care Partnerships Third Sector Working Group hosted by the regional Health and Social Care Board
- NIUSE Policy Group, this Group facilitates discussion across community and voluntary organisations on a range of key policy issues and concerns relating to disability and employment.
In addition, we continue to provide direct support to the Coalition of Carer Organisations NI, an alliance of local and national community and voluntary organisations collaborating to advance the rights of carers in Northern Ireland. During this period, we facilitated regular information sharing and updates across its membership and agreed arrangements for our next Coalition meeting scheduled for the 5th October.
In July the Policy and Public Affairs team held two bespoke training sessions on Effective Lobbying and Campaigning for the Patient and Client Council to develop their capacity to advocate directly and partner with voluntary and community organisations to secure improvements to health and social care services
During this period, we continued to support the work of the Joint Government and Voluntary Sector Forum (Joint Forum) including progressing next steps for a number of key Task and Finish Groups which shall work across the public and community and voluntary sectors to address issues of key interest to the sector and help in shaping and informing its relationship with government. During this period, we also supported Forum members in agreeing a revised Terms of Reference and a shared Work Plan for the Forum to be delivered over this new Term.
We also oversaw the appointment and induction of two new members to the Forums Voluntary and Community Sector Panel- Gareth Eannetta, NIACRO and Paula Powell, British Red Cross and facilitated the appointment of a new Deputy Chair- Denise Hayward, Volunteer Now.
The next full Joint Forum meeting is to be held online on the 13th October 2021.
Over recent months, Geoff has been leading NICVA’s efforts to move to a Net Zero Carbon future and play our part in tackling the ever more urgent threats to society of climate change. This has included commissioning Action Renewables to carry out a NICVA Energy Audit and Emissions Baseline Assessment, which recommended a target (now adopted by the NICVA Executive Committee) to reduce our direct* carbon emissions by 50% by 2025. NICVA is now taking expert advice on a range of options for on-site energy efficiency and low/zero carbon energy generation at our Belfast headquarters. In July, Geoff also met with DAERA to provide a voluntary and community sector perspective on their Green Growth Strategy.
As part of NICVAs Covid-19 survey series, the team undertook another Covid-19 impact survey in June/July 2021. This survey was disseminated to all heads of VCSE sector member organisations in Northern Ireland. A total of 132 participants responded to the survey. The survey focused on the financial impact of Covid-19, it's continued impact on the delivery of organisations key services and activities, the impact on staffing and volunteer levels and on service beneficiaries. Further results from the survey shall be made available in due course.
With almost three quarters of NICVA members working to promote positive community relations, it remains a substantial area of work for the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland.
To celebrate Good Relations Week 2021, and the theme of ‘Brighter Days Ahead’ which aims to shine a light on the peace building and cultural diversity efforts of young people in NI, NICVA recently held an online event examining the role of the voluntary and community sector in supporting good relations amongst Northern Ireland’s young people.
You can read more about the event and watch the recording here.
The team continue to provide up to date information and guidance on subjects relevant to the sector via a range of timely articles published on the NICVA website. Articles during this period included: NIPSO: Consultation on creating Complaints Handling Standards for the Northern Ireland public sector, Future Planning Model: DoH Consultation webinar, and DfE briefing on the High Street £100 Voucher Scheme
You can keep up to date with all our recent articles here.
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