Policy and Public Affairs Update - December 2020

As the year draws to a close, we reflect back on the work of the Policy and Public Affairs team during the last few months of 2020. 

With the pandemic still having a grasp of the sector, resilience was at the forefront as organisations adapted to an online presence with events, webinars and campaigns taking a more positive and upward turn. Despite a restricted few months over the summer, Brexit again has gained traction with many unknowns still to be answered, and the Autumn/Winter definitely brought with it a busy spell.

Research for Society

Although research on the impact of Covid-19 on the sector has continued to dominate with the Covid-19 Impact Survey November 2020 disseminated, analysed and internal report produced.

As 2020 comes to an end, we are already in full planning mode for research projects that will be carried out in 2021. These include but are not limited to:

  • Public Benefit Survey
  • Individual Giving Survey

The team have also been engaging with organisations to understand how recent campaigns and lobbying have resulted in providing an impact. This quarter we have talked with Employers for Childcare and the Women’s Resource and Development Agency to understand how some of their campaigns have provided results for their sectors.

Brexit: Campaigning and Providing Information

Fighting for Future EU Funding for the Sector and its Replacement

The Policy and Public Affairs team has been busy fighting the sector’s corner for continued post-Brexit EU funding and replacement government funding programmes to support the sector’s work.

On 6th November, we brought together officials from the Department for the Economy and the Department for Communities via Zoom to hear the concerns of 28 sector organisations from NICVA’s ESF (European Social Fund) Users Group about the imminent loss of ESF post-Brexit and to update them on the latest plans for its replacement.  The current ESF programme has supported over 77,000 people in Northern Ireland to overcome barriers to social and economic inclusion and to gain skills and employment including thousands of people supported by NI voluntary and community organisations.  At the meeting both Departments committed to engaging regularly with the ESF Users and agreed to hold a second meeting on 17th December.

On the 18th November, at the invitation of the NI Assembly Economy Committee, the Head of Policy and Public Affairs and NICVA CEO gave evidence to the committee on the impact on the sector of the loss EU funding post-Brexit and the sector’s concerns about the lack of clarity and inadequacy of planned replacement funding through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, announced by UK government over three years ago but with little detail and no public consultation since.  As well as concerns about the replacement of funding from EU programmes such PEACE, Interreg, the Rural Development Programme and ESF, we also highlighted the loss of such programmes as the European Solidarity Corps which supports EU wide volunteering and brought €800k to sector organisations in 2020, and the ERASMUS+ programme supporting education, training and youth work exchanges, which brought €28M to NI (including over €3M to sector organisations) in 2017.

On the 20th November NICVA issued a joint statement with our sister Councils in Scotland (SCVO) and Wales (WCVA) and joint letter to the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, calling on him to ensure that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund continues to support sector organisations to carry on the vital work funded by ESF, and that the fund is devolved and delivered locally in Northern Ireland.  On the 25th November the Chancellor issued a budget review statement in which he announced that the UKSPF would provide at least the same level of funding as EU funding and would target both ‘places in need’ and ‘people in need’ through support for skills and employment.  We will continue to push on behalf of the sector, for this funding to deliver what the sector needs.

Preparing the Sector for the Start of Brexit Impacts in 2021

On the 10th December, the Team organised a Zoom Post-Brexit preparation briefing event attended by over 50 sector organisations.  The event representatives from the UK HMRC and Trader Support Service and the NI Department for the Economy, gave details of and took questions on what steps and registration all sector organisations need to take to ensure they are trading and operating legally from the 1st of January 2021 when the Brexit transition period ends and the impacts of new rules and regulations take effect. 

Representing and Promoting the Voice of the Sector

Promoting Civic Engagement and Citizens’ Assemblies

The team has been supporting the ‘Community Voice’ campaign led by the Community Foundation NI which aims to encourage greater use of Citizens’ Assemblies and other structured civic engagement mechanisms to allow citizens and civic society a greater role in informing government decision-making on key issues affecting us all.  During this quarter, the campaign included two Zoom engagement events involving sector organisations and local MLAs and Councillors designed to build political support for civic engagement and for the NI political parties to make good on their commitment in the New Decade New Approach deal to organise regular NI citizens’ assemblies.  The campaign is advocating that the first of these should be organised on the theme of ‘Building Back Better’ (post-Covid).

Bill of Rights

A member of the PPA Team sits on the Bill of Rights Working group and NICVA are proud to support the current #MakeOurFutureFair Campaign. Led by the Human Rights Consortium, the newly launched campaign calls for the delivery of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Twenty-two years after the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the implementation of a Bill of Rights is still outstanding, and the recent Coivd-19 pandemic has highlighted further the need to help protect and provide for those who are vulnerable in society. A Bill of Rights would provide a safety net for everyone in our society, so that if or when things go wrong, there is a mechanism in place to provide support. NICVA are signatories to the recent letter sent to the First and Deputy First Minister calling for the commitment to the delivery of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

On 12th January, the team will host an information session along with the Human Rights Consortium, examining the importance of responding to the current Bill of Rights consultation and providing context on what a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland could look like.

Engagement with Health and Social Care Representatives

During this period, we continued our membership of the Integrated Care Partnerships Third Sector Steering Group, including meeting with the newly appointed ICP Third Sector Coordinator and participated in a number of COVID 19 related public health seminars and events.

Forums and Events

The Government and Voluntary Sector Joint Forum

During this period, we continued to support the re-establishment of the Joint Government and Voluntary Sector Forum (‘Joint Forum’) in this new 2020-23 term.  This including meetings of the VCS Panel to agree their priorities for action over the new term and meetings with both the Government and newly elected Voluntary Sector Joint Chairs to help build relationships across the sectors and agree a plan of work.

Promoting Community and Civic Action on Climate Change

On the 3rd of November the team organised a Zoom webinar ‘Time for Citizen Action on Climate Change’ at which speakers who were involved in the organisation of and took part in the first ever UK Climate Assembly – A Citizens’ Assembly to develop a new plan for tackling climate change – presented their experiences.  Read more and watch the webinar here - Time for citizen action on climate change? A webinar examining the work of the UK Climate Assembly. | NICVA  Scotland is now planning its own Climate Assembly and the event highlighted there is growing interest and support for an NI Climate Citizens’ Assembly to be organised.

Public Affairs Forum

On the 8th December we hosted a virtual meeting of our Public Affairs Forum to explore the impact of the pandemic on the VCSE sectors capacity to inform and influence public policy & decision making on key societal issues.

During this event a varied panel of Policy and Public Affairs advocates from across the health, women’s and environmental sectors, shared experiences and insight as to how their organisations are engaging with policy and decision makers throughout the COVID 19 crisis and more broadly in progressing key policy priorities and concerns.

Attended by a diverse range of Policy and Public Affairs representatives from across the sector this event highlighted how the role of the voluntary and community sector in making representation to decision makers, influencing policy and service reform and advocating on key social issues is now more vital than ever.

In November we launched our new monthly Policy and Public Affairs Bulletin, which will provide a monthly digest of key policy and public affairs news, information, events and policy updates and is circulated to those working or interested in policy and public affairs across the community, voluntary and public sectors.

Membership on Working Groups and Coalitions

Throughout the past few months, the team have continued to represent the sector and provide support on various working groups, including:  

  • 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
  • Bill of Right’s Working Group hosted by the Human Rights Consortium
  • Women’s Policy Group
  • NIUSE Policy Sub-Group

Highlights during this period include support to the Coalition on Carers in establishment of the first All Party Group on Carers, which held its inaugural meeting on the 17th November and which garnered significant political support an interest. In addition to mark Carers Rights Day on the 26th November the Coalition hosted a Roundtable Discussion Event on the Rights of Carers, with a keynote address by Les Allamby Chief Commissioner, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission alongside powerful and hugely insightful input from a range of Carers.  This highly engaging event was attended by a diverse audience of Carers, advocate organisations, senior government officials and party-political representatives and explored what we can and should be doing to improve the rights of carers across Northern Ireland.

Information Sharing

The Policy and Public Affairs Team have continued to work with voluntary and community groups, as well as the Public Sector, in disseminating relevant information. From Falls Community Council to Department for Economy and Belfast City Council, the team have continued to inform the sector about changes to policy, information webinars, and new mechanisms that promote citizen participation.

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