Shaping Supportive Policy in 2021
The following is adapted from an email update that I sent to members of The Wheel earlier in February. If you wish to be among the first to receive these updates, as well as being a part of the community that shapes our policy, you can join The Wheel.
We are all keenly aware of the challenges that have faced us over the last year. That said, some positive developments emerged out of the crisis that we can build on in 2021.
- The public and policymakers have a greater appreciation of the role of community and voluntary organisations.
- When outcomes took priority over contract details, many organisations had very positive experiences with collaborative working.
- Many organisations innovated service responses that will persist when the crisis is over. There will be no automatic return to the way things were done before – in many areas, ten years of change has been compressed into ten months.
- Many organisations rediscovered their resilience, fitness-for-purpose and missions.
At the same time, our members continue to grapple with serious concerns. Our member networks have met regularly during the crisis, and raised many pressing issues. From these, we have developed a set of policy priorities for the coming year.
Our priorities for 2021
- Ensuring that policymakers appreciate and appropriately address the true impact of the Covid crisis on community and voluntary organisations’ finances and services.
- Guaranteeing adequate funding for community and voluntary organisations, and building on the 2020 Stability Fund for Community and Voluntary Organisations, Charities and Social Enterprises to secure any extra supports required.
- Ensuring that any reform processes that spring from the crisis supply funding based on need, that multi-annual funding becomes the norm, that funding for compliance costs is provided as standard, and that compliance processes generally are reviewed and streamlined.
- Campaigning to raise public, media and policymaker appreciation of the impact and value of the work of the community and voluntary sector.
- Addressing the sector’s training and development needs through a comprehensive workforce development strategy. According to research commissioned by The Wheel there has been a historical under-investment in the sector, and any investment by the state would yield a 3x productivity return (Indecon, 2020).
- Advancing these issues through the many formal processes The Wheel is involved in on behalf of our members. These include implementation groups for the Department of Rural and Community Development’s Five-Year Strategy for the CV Sector, the Social Enterprise Policy, the Community Services Programme, the Tusla Commissioning Advisory Group, and the Health Dialogue Forum chaired by Peter Cassells (through which the sector can help to shape the implementation of Slaintecare).
- Fully involving the community and voluntary sector in the Government’s new Shared Island initiative, as many of the big societal and economic challenges that our members are wrestling with will best be addressed on a shared-island basis.
Our work with Government
In 2021, we will build on our very positive recent collaboration with government Ministers, departments and officials. We will strive to continue the effective collaboration that developed during the pandemic between community and voluntary organisations and their statutory partners.
The following questions will be central to our work:
- How do we further and deepen the sector’s relationship with the Department of Rural and Community Development and Government more generally?
- Is there potential to achieve the “tight and loose” vision articulated by HSE CEO Paul Reid, which proposes increased delegation/autonomy of decision-making to funded organisations as part of a clearer, centrally determined general-services framework?
- Can similar ambitions be set for Tusla-funded members?
We have to avoid a return to inbuilt uncertainty about future Government budgets and policies affecting the sector. When current pandemic supports are inevitably withdrawn, we must make sure that there are no transitional gaps — especially if we risk a return to some form of austerity. Above all, we must avoid pressure on our sector to retrench and consolidate services as part of an under-formed strategy to limit spending.
Rest assured that we will always be working with you and for you. In the many spaces where solutions can be articulated and progress can be made, we will advocate for a stronger, better-resourced, and more respected community and voluntary sector. The crisis will leave many scars, but we hope this can be one of its positive legacies.
How you can get involved
Before I finish, I want to share some of the many ways that you can get involved and contribute to our sector’s future.
Firstly, we would love to extend an invitation to our annual Summit on 19 and 20 May (registration is not yet open, but you will find the event on this page when it is). The two-day, online event will address many of the issues above and offer an opportunity to engage with key decision-makers, your peers and a wide range of experts.
Secondly, you can join one of a growing number of member networks and work with us to address a range of key policy challenges.
We will also provide opportunities throughout the year to engage with the political system. Our "Meet the Leaders" sessions will continue, along with other opportunities to speak with key figures from Ireland’s political parties.
Finally, please do let me know if there any pressing issues you have not seen referenced above. We are working on a wide range of active issues for members through our networks, and it is through their engagement with our work that we can be sure we are aware of all of the issues that community and voluntary organisations face.
Thank you very much for taking the time to engage with our policy priorities. I look forward to working with you throughout the year in the spirit of optimism and determination that characterises our sector.