Shaping the Future Relationship with Government

15 Nov 2023 Shauna O'Neill    Last updated: 16 Nov 2023

Shaping the Future Relationship with Government image

An update from Denise Hayward, VCS Co-Chair of the Joint Forum on behalf of the Voluntary and Community Sector Panel, on proposals for a new Agreement between the Voluntary and Community Sector and Government 

The Joint Forum was set up in 1988 to promote regular dialogue between the Voluntary and Community Sector and Departments of the NI Government.  The forum is made up of public sector representatives and a Voluntary and Community Sector Panel (VCS Panel) of 15 representatives elected from the sector. The VCS Panel meets with senior representatives from across government and the public sector regularly throughout the year,  as the Joint Forum. 

As an integral part of its workplan for this current Joint Forum term, the Forum's membership has been working on a review of the existing Concordat - an agreement which underpins the relationship and which was last updated in 2011. Former Communities Minster Deirdre Hargey mandated the forum to undertake this review of the Concordat as part of a reset of the Joint Forum in September 2022.

The Forum has taken evidence from across the UK and Ireland about how the relationship between public bodies and the sector works elsewhere and the public policy and legislative frameworks which support these relationships.

In the past six months the Forum and in particular the VCS Panel has been shaping a set of values and practices that should underpin these relationships in the future.  Our proposals are rooted in recognition of both sectors distinct yet complementary roles in contributing to the social, economic, environmental, and cultural life of Northern Ireland and the belief that by collaborating and working better together, we can increase our impact and agency. Any new Concordat/Agreement should act as a framework for improving partnership working which recognises and supports the contribution each makes to improving the lives of individuals and communities. 

On the basis of this mutual understanding of each other’s roles, it should be recognised that the VCS sector continues to be a key partner in formulating and delivering many aspects of public policy/services, and as such, there is a need to develop much stronger partnerships/relationships with government and its agencies. Many VCS sector organisations play a dual role, acting not only as advocates for change or improvement, but also delivering vital service and supports to beneficiaries and communities. A new Concordat/Agreement should recognise the importance of the VCS sector to a healthy, just and prosperous society, and set out how Government will work alongside and support the sector as a key partner in the years to come.

It should be noted that the VCS Panel is most keen to continue exploring the potential for any new agreement to be given a statutory footing by implementing legislation that would solidify the relationship between the VCS and the Northern Ireland Government and the commitments enshrined in any new concordat/agreement.  However, we recognise that this process will take time and we therefore support, in the interim, a clearer link between the new Concordat/Agreement and the Programme for Government and other measures such as a Ministerial statement.

The VCS Panel has begun a process of engagement with the wider sector on these issues via an online consultation event on the 14th November 2023 in preparation for a public consultation by the Department for Communities on the values and principles of a new agreement. This forms part of a wider consultation by the Department on draft proposals for future Infrastructure support of the Voluntary and Community Sector in NI. This consultation launched on 15th November, and we would encourage everyone in the sector to respond to this to help shape and inform these important relationships.

In addition, the VCS Panel will be hosting a series of face to face and online events in January 2024 to engage with the sector in more detail on these issues and to ensure that we represent as wide a range of views as possible in our discussions on final proposals for an agreement between the sectors. More details on these events,including venues etc. will follow in the next few weeks.

Denise Hayward
Co-Chair, Govt and Voluntary Sector Joint Forum – on behalf of the Joint Forum Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Panel

What is the Concordat?

The Concordat between the Voluntary & Community Sector and the Northern Ireland Government  published in 2011, set out a shared vision and agreed commitments between the sectors to work together as social partners to build a participative, peaceful, equitable and inclusive community in Northern Ireland.  

For more information on the Joint Forum, including the full list of current Voluntary and Community Sector Panel representatives, please visit here.

shauna.oneill@nicva.org's picture
by Shauna O'Neill

Communications Officer

[email protected]

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