Update on The Wheel's Policy Work

Posted on
12 Oct 2018
by Ivan Cooper

There is a lot going on at the moment and this blog is aimed at keeping you informed of significant developments that may have an impact on your organisation.

In this blog, I address a host of issues, but there are three big issues that our members are reporting as “burning platforms” right now, so I’ll turn to these first: 1) the ever-increasing demands of compliance requirements; 2) the unaffordable cost of insurance premiums, and 3) for “Section 39” HSE-Funded members (and for all members), achieving pay-parity, where relevant, for their staff with staff covered by the Croke Park Agreement.

Reducing and Streamlining Compliance Requirements 

Ever-increasing regulatory and funding-related compliance requirements are at a point where they are thwarting the work of our members and hindering innovation in the sector. Our members report that they are having to divert ever-increasing resources into meeting compliance requirements, and while members understand and support the drive for highest governance standards in the sector, achieving these standards has to be done in such a way that organisations are able to do their day-to-day work. There is now an urgent need to reduce and streamline compliance requirements and ensure that when the state funds organisations to do work, that it provides for the cost-of-compliance in funding allocations.

We called on Government in our pre-budget submission and in a joint press-statement to reduce and streamline compliance requirements and provide increased allocations to meet the cost of compliance. We are also working with our HSE and Tusla-funded members to campaign for a reduction in command-and-control style compliance, and for the development of new models for partnership working that respect the autonomy of funded organisations. Evolving “commissioning” practice should respect these principles as well. If you are interested in joining this campaign please email ivan@wheel.ie.

Cost of Insurance Premiums

The cost of insurance premiums has reached a crisis point for many of our members, and we are working as members of the Alliance for Insurance Reform to keep pressure on Government to address this issue. 

Many of our members have seen insurance premiums for employer and public liability insurance increase by up to 400% in recent years, with some members having to close services because they cannot afford the premiums. The Alliance has successfully drawn focus onto the issue of insurance costs at Government level. In the last few weeks, meetings with the Minister responsible for insurance Michael D'Arcy and Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, as well as several members featuring prominently in an RTE Prime Time report, have piled additional pressure on key policy makers. Additionally, the launch of the Personal Injuries Commission's Final Report,which we have broadly welcomed, has injected a sense of urgency into the debate. There are now several key pieces of legislation, amendments or ministerial orders waiting to be processed and much of Alliance's work will focus on ensuring these key pieces of reform are signed off. If you would like to join The Wheel’s Cost of Insurance Working Group please email ivan@wheel.ie.

Pay Parity for Staff of Section 39 HSE-Funded Organisations

Following recent Labour Court decisions and a HSE audit of certain HSE-funded Section 39 organisations, we understand that there is a proposal that the staff of Section 39 organisations, which participated in the review (and that’s a small number of organisations), are to be awarded a once-off pay increase (subject, we understand, to decisions by relevant trades unions). While this is welcome, the question remains: what about everyone else working in HSE-funded Section 39 organisations that did not participate in the review? Additionally, it is not clear yet how, and when, affected Section 39 organisations will see their funding increased to enable them to pay these awards. We will be working with our HSE-funded Members Network to understand the implications for them of the recent announcements. We are of course acutely aware that retaining staff is an issue for many community and voluntary organisations in receipt of state funding to provide supports and services, and we will be working to make sure that pay-related issues are on the agenda of all government departments. Join our HSE network here.

Budget 2019 Analysis 

We held a special Budget 2019 briefing session for members on Thursday, 11 October, at which independent social researcher Brian Harvey presented his analysis of the impact of Budget 2019 on the community and voluntary sector and on the people and communities it supports. Ten years on from the 2008 crisis, Brian’s analysis notes that many Government expenditure lines have still not recovered to the levels they were at pre-crisis. Alison Darcy, Director of Tax in Crowe, provided an overview of the changes in the main taxation headers in Budget 2019.

Review of Community Services Programme Anticipated

The Community Services Progamme (€45M pa) is a major programme that funds full-time jobs in many member-organisations – so any changes to how the programme operates will be of great interest to our members. We understand that the Department of Community and Rural Development is to commence a review of the programme shortly (we brought members together in July to hear their views on the programme and fed these views back to the Department).

The Department has indicated that they will put the proposed Terms of Reference for the review out for consultation soon and we will engage our members in preparing our submission in due course. There are indications that the review may address the relationship between the programme and the social enterprise policy, so it will be important that the review strikes the right balance and keeps a firm focus on supporting community services. If you would like to join our CSP Network please email ivan@wheel.ie.

Protecting Civil Society Voice: The Wheel Joins Campaign to Reform the Electoral Acts

Members will no doubt be aware that, earlier this year, Amnesty Ireland were ordered by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) to return funding to a foreign donor and that following initiation of court action, SIPO reversed their decision. There have been other voluntary organisations that have faced similar orders from SIPO, enforcing the “political activity” clauses of the Electoral Acts, in the recent past. There is a general view, which The Wheel subscribes to, that the Electoral Acts need to be reformed to remove the threat that they currently pose to independent civil society voice. The Wheel are members of the Campaign to Reform the Electoral Acts and you can sign the campaign's open letter urging Government action to reform the acts. The campaign issued a statement naming the issues on Thursday. Find out more here

Presidential Election Hustings

On 26 October, Ireland will be going to the polls to vote in the Presidential Election, and to help our members make an informed choice, we hosted a special presidential election hustings on 10 October. This was an excellent opportunity to hear the candidates' views on the key issues for the community, voluntary and charity sector. All the candidates were invited and three attended: Liadh Ní Riada, Gavin Duffy and Joan Freeman. Watch their contributions here. 

New Strategies for Community and Voluntary Sector, Social Enterprise and Volunteering 

New strategies to support the community and voluntary sector, social enterprise and volunteering are currently being developed by the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD), the lead department for the community, voluntary and charitable sector and social enterprise. We are working to ensure that these strategies are coherent and that they are adequately resourced to achieve ambitious targets for the sector. We expect the three policies to be launched before Christmas.

New Governance Code Being Developed By Charities Regulator

The Charity Regulator is currently developing a new Governance Code for charities, in line with recommendations made in the Report of the Regulator’s Consultative Panel on the Governance of Charities (which The Wheel was a member of). 

The new code will be mandatory for all charities, and those charities that have already adopted the existing voluntary Governance Code for Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations should find themselves very well placed to declare themselves compliant with the new code. We will be working to ensure that the Regulator allows for sufficient time for charities to transition over to the new code.

I would also like to draw your attention to Trustees’ Week, 12-16 November. The week is being organised by the Charities Regulator, The Wheel, Charities Institute Ireland, Dóchas, Carmichael, Boardmatch Ireland and Volunteer Ireland. We will be hosting a number of related events and free webinars during the week (see our training and events calendar for detail). More information will be available shortly on the Charities Regulator's website.

European Funding: Support for Our Members

Ireland’s community and voluntary sector could benefit much more from European funding if dedicated supports were in place to support organisations in the demanding task of applying for EU funding. The Wheel met with Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee in the run up to Budget 2019 to make the case for Government investment for targeted supports to enable organisations to better compete in the process of securing European funding. 

The priorities for the European Budget are currently being set for the next framework and we can report that the Minister appreciated the potential in the community and voluntary sector to increase the share of European funding secured by Ireland. We will be keeping a strong focus on this policy area – and will keep you informed of developments aimed at making it easier for members to win European funding for their work.

We have also recently launched our European Project Manager Network to help support more cohesion and exchange of best practice among our members who are currently active in European programmes, and to help us drive our European policy priorities. For more information on this, contact our Programmes Officer, Lauren Carroll at lauren@wheel.ie

Commissioning: HSE and Tusla-funded Members Raising Concerns

Commissioning is a big theme for many members as state agencies such as Tusla and the HSE move to allocating funding using commissioning models. We are working hard to ensure that commissioning is not taken by such agencies to mean “procuring from the market via competitive processes” (although there is evidence that that is increasingly how it is being applied) – and we will continue to press this point to the HSE and to Tusla. Meanwhile, Tusla and HSE-funded members have identified a range of concerns in recent meetings with The Wheel, and we have communicated these concerns to Tusla, the HSE and the Independent Review Group examining the Role of Voluntary Providers in Health and Social Services (see our submission). Issues include the complexity of completing service agreements; inconsistency of practice between regions; there being too much of a focus on financial compliance rather than on service development; the failure to adequately respond to need in communities; and there being too much intrusion into the autonomy of organisations via the requirements of service contracts. The Wheel is working in the context of our membership of Tusla’s Commissioning Advisory Group, and through regular engagements with the HSE to press for reform in these areas. Join The Wheel’s HSE Network of the Tusla Network.

Sustainable Development Goals and The Wheel’s Spark Change Challenge

The Wheel is a member of Coalition 2030a group of civil society organisations working to ensure that Ireland meets the goals it has set for itself relating to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets in Ireland and the world.  We participated in a delegation that met the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nation, Amina Mohammed, on her recent visit to Ireland, and presented the coalition’s assessment of Ireland's progress in meeting the SDGs.  We would highly recommend that all members read this document, as it identifies a most comprehensive range of actions required if Ireland is to truly meet the SDGs by 2030. The document represents a civil society manifesto for change towards an Ireland and world of equality and justice for all.  The Wheel will be working hard to raise awareness of the significance of the SDGs in the years ahead.  

We are challenging our members to do their part by signing up to our Spark Change ChallengeSpark Change is a collaborative project of The Wheel and Trinity College Dublin, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The goal of Spark Change is to improve the economic, social and environmental sustainability of communities across Ireland, and to gather information on how community and voluntary activity is contributing to Ireland’s commitments to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. 

Once you have registered your project, we will support you with expert advice, free training and small grants for local events. Your project will also be entered into the 2019 Spark Change Awards (we will be showcasing Ireland’s top sustainability projects in 2019!). Find out more

Don't Forget to Enter the Charity Impact Awards! 

Nominations for The Wheel's Charity Impact Awards close 23 October at 5pm. Don't miss this excellent opportunity to showcase the impact of your organisation's work.

There are six categories for organisations of all sizes and types, and I'd like to draw your attention to two categories in particular.

  • The Trustee of the Year Award aims to shine a light on voluntary trustees who have made an extraordinary contribution to an organisation. Any trustee (i.e. board member, committee member, etc.) of an organisation’s board can be nominated. 
  • This year, we are also introducing a  Social Enterprise of the Year Award. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness of any social-mission focused organisation that engages in trading activity. 

The winners will be announced at the Charity Impact Awards, on 11 December at the Mansion House in Dublin. See www.charityimpactawards.ie for more. 

For more information on the issues addressed in this update visit the Policy & Research Section on our new website.