Policy and Public Affairs Team Update
Since our last Policy and Public Affairs Team update, it seems, like everyone, that our world and work has been dominated by the presence of Covid-19.
Highlighting how Covid-19 has impacted on the sector and those it serves and posing sector questions to Government
Since March, we have undertaken a total of six sector wide surveys through which we have been able to gather key information as to how the Covid-19 crisis has affected sector organisations; how they have been responding to community needs on the ground; how they have been adapting their services, and what support they need in response. These surveys have provided valuable insight as to the continued impact of the pandemic on VCSE organisations and the communities they serve. They continue to provide valuable information and intelligence from across the sector, to help NICVA highlight to government and others the impacts the crisis has been having and what the needs of the sector are.
You can read out more about the surveys and their results via some of these recent articles:
Using this information and wider feedback from our engagement with both the sector and government also enabled us to develop the ‘Advocacy and Government Engagement’ resource on the NICVA Covid-19 Website Hub. In the early stages of the pandemic this resource aimed to provide answers to the sector’s frequently asked questions of government related to Covid-19. Read more here https://www.nicva.org/article/your-questions-to-government-and-latest-answers-update
Research for Society
We have also worked with Queens University to steer and promote special COVID-19 research impact grants. These grants were established at short notice in April to support the use of research to tackle Covid-19 impacts including projects involving QUB researchers partnering with VCSE organisations. Find out more here - https://www.nicva.org/article/qub-funds-researchersector-partnerships-to-tackle-social-impacts-of-covid-19
Brexit and Campaigning on future replacements for EU funding
The team continued to hold meetings with key officials and participate in both local and national discussion and debate with regard to Brexit and the Future EU/UK relationship, renewing our call for meaningful civil society engagement regarding.
The team has been working hard to consult on and represent the sector’s views on what future replacement funding programmes should look like when current EU funding programmes run out.
Following our consultation event on the new EU PEACE plus programme (due to replace the current EU PEACE IV and Interreg cross-border co-operation programmes) we prepared and submitted a sector response the Special EU Programme Body’s PEACE Plus consultation https://www.nicva.org/article/seupb-publish-peaceplus-stakeholder-engagement-survey-report and, along with a number of sector representatives with long experience of EU programme delivery , met with Department of Finance Minister Conor Murphy in June, to highlight the sector’s views on what the new programme should support.
ESF Users Group
In May and June, as Lockdown began to ease, non-Covid-19-related work began to increase. We resumed work begun before lockdown, with NICVA’s ESF (European Social Fund) User Group to develop a position paper on how future government funding programmes should be developed to replace the support previously provided by ESF aimed at the social and economic inclusion of vulnerable groups. The paper was submitted to the Economy Minister and officials of the Department for the Economy as the ESF lead Department and received a positive response and commitment to work with the sector on new programmes.
We are continuing to pursue these commitments and also are advocating hard to ensure that the promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund announced by UK Government and intended to replace ESF and the EU Rural Development Programmes, fully addresses the needs previously met by EU funding and that the sector has a voice and influence in discussions regarding .
Promoting the Voice of the Sector
Giving the Sector A Voice in Community Planning in Belfast
At the request of Belfast City Council, to support their efforts to engage voluntary, community and social enterprises in their community planning process, we delivered a nomination and selection process to identify representatives to sit on a new Belfast VCSE Forum providing a broad balance of representation of the sector across the city (see https://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/vcse ) bringing sector expertise and knowledge to help shape the delivery of the ‘Belfast Agenda’ Community Plan.
Joint Government and Voluntary Sector Forum
Also, over recent months, temporarily stalled by lockdown, we worked with a selection sub-group from the NICVA executive to undertake the nomination and selection of 15 voluntary and community sector representatives (VCG Panel) to sit on the Joint Government and Voluntary Sector Forum (‘Joint Forum’) for the next three-year term.
The new VCG Panel representatives for the 2020/23 term met for the first time (virtually) on the 11th September to discuss issues to be raised at their first full Joint Forum meeting with Government due to be held soon. Discussion focused on how we can work together to meaningfully advance the Joint Forum’s goal of creating better collaboration and joint working between the sector and government. The VCG Panel also agreed their new Chair and Vice Chair for the 2020-23 term. These were confirmed as : Anne- Marie McClure, Start 360 (VCG Panel Chair) and Ellen Finlay ,Children In NI (VCG Panel Co Chair) .We look forward to supporting the work of the 2020/23 VCG panel and to keeping you updated as the work of the Joint Forum gets underway in this new term.
Forums and Events
We also hosted two virtual meetings of our Public Affairs Forum in response to the impact of the Pandemic.
These Forum meetings brought together Policy and Public Affairs representatives from across the sector to share policy insight and key messages in regard to the impact of the current crisis on their organisations and those they work with and on behalf of. The range of organisations in attendance was diverse, with representatives from across a variety of sectors including health, children & young peoples, disability, rural communities, childcare, parenting, justice and the women’s sector
The range of issues under discussion at these forums was wide ranging, highlighting the far-reaching impact of the pandemic. Discussion highlighted that whilst this crisis is bringing with it new challenges for organisations and those they serve, it is also exacerbating existing gaps, pressures and inequalities in public policy and service provision, that were already being felt by individuals and across communities. You can read more from these events here https://www.nicva.org/article/covid-19-public-affairs-forum
In addition, we also ran a series of Insight and Impact articles featuring organisations from across the voluntary and community sector, exploring the impact of the pandemic on particular groups across our society, including women, children and young people. You can view these here:
We are currently putting together plans for our next Public Affairs Forum meeting where we hope to highlight the work of some current voluntary and community sector Coalitions and Working Groups. Sharing policy insight and experiences, we will explore how our sector is working to inform and influence public policy, decision making and debate in this ‘new environment’ and beyond.
Mutual Bank Campaign Webinar
We recently hosted an Information webinar on the campaign to develop a regional Mutual Bank in Northern Ireland. In this interactive webinar we were joined by representatives from the Our Money campaign, who discussed proposals for the development of a mutual bank across the region and outlined what they believe to be the key benefits of the model to the needs of individuals and communities in Northern Ireland. Read more about this event here : https://www.nicva.org/article/a-regional-mutual-bank-for-northern-ireland-webinar
Support and Membership of key Coalitions and Working Groups
We have continued our support and membership of a range of key working groups, coalitions and alliances whose work at this time seems more urgent and relevant than ever.
This has included active membership of the:
- Cliff Edge Coalition NI
- Bill of Rights for NI working group hosted by the Human Rights Consortium
- UK Brexit Civil Society Alliance
- NI Coalition on Carers
- Equality Coalition Working Group
Some highlights of this work include continued secretariat and support to the Coalition on Carers. Given the significant impact of the COVID-19 crisis on carers and their loved ones, we have been supporting the Coalition to meet more regularly throughout the pandemic. Chaired by Carers NI, meetings have offered a supportive space for it's member organisations to share insight, information and resources, and to highlight and make collective representation on key issues, as appropriate, to government and other senior decision makers. To mark this year’s Carers Week,held in June, the Coalition produced a Joint Statement on the Impact of Covid-19 on Carers in NI. Highlighting key impacts in regards to carers rights and covering issues including access to services, impacts of isolation, grief, loss and bereavement etc, more details on this briefing can be viewed here https://www.nicva.org/article/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-carers-in-northern-ireland.
The Coalition are currently working on plans to host a Roundtable Discussion Event on the Rights of Carers, to mark Carers Rights Day on the 26th November and to which they hope to invite senior Government and political and public sector representatives.
Engagement with Health and Social Care Representatives
During this period we continued our membership of the Integrated Care Partnerships Third Sector Steering Group.Throughout the pandemic we have participated in regular virtual meetings of this group, hosted by the Health and Social Care Board, to support information exchange and raise sector concerns regarding the provision of health and social care services during the Covid-19 crisis.
Responses to Government and Public Sector consultations
We continued to respond to key government and public sector policy and consultations, including the Belfast Resilience Strategy consultation and providing comment on the Department of Health draft Covid 19 Surge Planning Strategic Framework.
We recently relaunched our weekly Assembly Insider, after a short break due to the impact of Covid and later Summer recess at the Assembly. This briefing provides weekly updates on NI Assembly business and you can sign up to recieve this newsletter here nicva.org/newsletters. During this period we also circulated a number of Policy and Public Affairs updates aimed at keeping the sector briefed on key policy news and developments.
New Policy and Public Affairs Team Member
And finally, in early September we were delighted to welcome Déarbhla Sloan to the Policy and Public Affairs team. With experience working in public sector policy, funding and public relations, Déarbhla has a keen interest in the role of voluntary and community groups feeding into public policy and encouraging organisations to become involved in the legislative and policy processes. You can get in touch with Dearbhla via [email protected].
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