Policy and Public Affairs Update - December 2021

With another year of lockdowns & uncertainty facing so many within the community, the VCSE sector continued to demonstrate strength & resilience as online events, webinars and campaigns continued to thrive throughout the course of 2021.

As 2021 draws to a close, we reflect on the work of the Policy and Public Affairs team during the last quarter. 

Promoting All Island Sector Collaboration - Shared Island: Shared Practices Project Director Appointed and Project Launched

The Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Geoff Nuttall, has been working closely over the last quarter with his counterpart in The Wheel, Ivan Cooper, to initiate the “Shared Island: Shared Practices” project to promote closer collaboration between the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors across the island of Ireland in tackling some of the biggest challenges of our time.  The project will focus on five key themes, namely: rural connectivity & sustainability; recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic; developing the island economy & social enterprise; digital connectedness & inclusion; and achieving a just transition to a de-carbonized and sustainable island.  In October, the project’s Director, Suzie Cahn, was recruited and on the 6th December, the project was formally launched at an online event attended by over 250 participants, with presentations from Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey.

Lobbying for Sector Representation in Post-Brexit UK-EU Structures

In November, Geoff, joined representatives from the GB sector Councils in meeting representatives from the Cabinet Office to make the case for sector representation on both the UK Civil Society Forum and Domestic Advisory Group, two mechanisms being established to represent UK civil society concerns and interests in future UK-EU arrangements.  NICVA has applied for representation on both bodies.

Supporting the Replacement of EU Funding for the Sector Post-Brexit

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, Communities and Finance on future domestic and UK strategy and funding programmes; and meetings with senior officials from the Northern Ireland Office and the new local  Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities unit on the development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund designed to replace EU funding.

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 hosted four meetings of the group during this quarter, including a meeting with senior Department of Economy officials to hear updates and discuss pressing issues and concerns in relation to ongoing uncertainty with regard to EU replacement funds, including the current match funding position and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the current process for delivery of DfE Call 3 ESF Funding programme and development of the Departments Skills Strategy.

We produced a briefing on behalf of the group which shall be used to inform continued lobbying and representation on the issues across all key stakeholders. You can view this briefing at ESF Users Group Briefing Highlights the Need for Urgent Action by both UK & NI Governments

Latest NICVA update on the sector’s sources of income and expenditure

In September, NICVA’s Income and Expenditure 2021 update examined data from the 2019-2020 funding environment of the sector with information collected from funders, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, 360 Giving, NICVA's own database and the Government Funders Database. This update focused on the economic distributions of organisations, funding (grants and contracts) from central government, local government and non-departmental public bodies, the Irish government, the EU, and lottery.  Further information and access to the full report is available at Income and Expenditure

Supporting the work of the Joint Government and Voluntary Sector Forum

During this period, we continued to support the work of the Joint Government and Voluntary Sector Forum (Joint Forum) and its Voluntary and Community Sector panel (VCS Panel).

This has included the second full joint forum meeting of this current term held on 13th October 2021 at which a broad range of representatives across the VCS and public sector where in attendance and had a busy agenda to consider. We also hosted two meetings of the Voluntary and Community Sector Panel during this period.

Alongside DfC colleagues, as Joint Secretariat to the Forum we supported the establishment of a number of thematic Subgroups made up of representatives from across the VCS and public sector who will drive and take forward priority issues of interest identified via the Joint Forums Workplan. Two cross sectoral subgroup Task and Finish Groups have commenced work looking at 1) Communication and Engagement across government and the sector and 2) the Funding Relationship between Government and the Voluntary Sector, which as part of its agenda will pick up and progress issues identified via an earlier Joint Forum work piece on ‘Addressing Bureaucracy in Government Funding’. 

During this period, we also hosted a session for Joint Forum members to meet with Welsh government and voluntary sector colleagues to explore lessons and learning from Wales regarding Government and Voluntary & Community Sector Partnership-Working including delivery of the Welsh Third Sector Scheme. The Third Sector Scheme . 

We also oversaw the appointment and induction of a new panel member Anna Clarke, Prospect Arts to the Forums Voluntary and Community Sector Panel, who replaced May Mc Avoy, Superstars Club, who stood down during this period.

The next full Joint Forum meeting is to be held on Friday 4th February 2022.

You can read more about key activities happening via the Joint Forum work in our recent communiqué

Workforce and Volunteers Survey 2021

NICVA recently undertook the Workforce and Volunteers Survey 2021 to provide a comprehensive overview of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) workforce in Northern Ireland. This survey, disseminated to all heads of VCSE sector organisations in NI, explored issues including workforce profile, salaries, pensions, recruitment, retention, restructuring, training, benefits, and future trends. However, due to a low response rate, we aim to reissue the survey again in early January 2022 in a bid to increase responses and to ensure a representative return. If you have not yet completed this survey, your assistance would be greatly appreciated when it is reissued in January 2022. This will allow NICVA to represent the needs of VCSE sector organisations from a solid evidence base.

Supporting the sector’s role in informing the NI Anti-Poverty Strategy

The Team continued to engage on behalf of the sector to support its important role in shaping this and other key inclusion strategies. This included hosting a series of meetings bringing together those Design Group representatives, across civil society tasked with informing the strategies development to discuss continued issues regarding and to agree and implement next steps to progress the groups concerns, including raising these directly with the Department of Communities, who are overseeing the strategies development. This included producing a briefing for the Communities Minister, on the group’s behalf outlining the groups key concerns and asks, which culminated in a recent positive meeting with Group representatives and the Minister at which a hopefully more purposeful way forward for the strategies continued development was agreed.

Individual Giving Survey

Each year, NICVA undertakes the Individual Giving Survey to gather data from members of the public in Northern Ireland to map their patterns of donating to charity. This year, the survey focuses on patterns of charitable giving, intention to donate to charity and methods of giving to charity. The most recent update of this section is of State of the Sector is underway and the results will be updated on the website in March 2022.

Election 2022 Engagement Series

With the Northern Ireland Assembly Election due to take place in May 2022, NICVA invited each of the five main parties to participate in engagement events with the Voluntary and Community Sector.

Each event was split into three main sections Communities, Rights and Equality Issues, Children and Young People and Health and provided an online platform that enabled the VCSE sector to pose questions to spokespeople from the DUP, the UUP and the SDLP around topics such as childcare, a Bill of Rights, integrated education and the impact of COVID-19 on care homes.

The discussion and topics raised provided an opportunity for each of the parties to hear from the sector, learn about their concerns, the challenges they are facing and the things that they see as priority going forward.

We are pleased that the events also provided for connections to be made between organisations and party officers in order to allow for follow up.

Three out of the five events have taken place with two more events due to take place in January 2022. For more information visit Election 2022 Engagement Series

Lobbying and Campaigning Training

In late November, the Policy and Public Affairs Team provided an introductory training session on Lobbying and Campaigning to a group of representatives from the Voluntary and Community Sector

The session is tailored for those who are new to lobbying and campaigning, or those who would like a refresher in this area. Providing attendees with a context on how policy is produced in Northern Ireland, the session also provided information to help understand how to effectively plan and implement a lobbying and campaigning strategy.

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:

  • 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
  • Integrated Care Partnerships Third Sector Working Group hosted by the regional Health and Social Care Board
  • QUB Research from Advisory Group on Educational experiences among minority ethnic groups

Providing Information, Guidance and Resources

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 and providing 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:  Budget 2022-2025: Update from the Finance Minister, The Scaffolding Project - The Experience of Poverty And Community Responses In East Belfast, More Revenue for Northern Ireland? - NI Fiscal Commission Publishes its Recommendations.

You can keep up to date with all our recent articles here.

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