The meeting began by considering the issues that had been raised by members at the voluntary and community group meeting in January, the list is attached. A broad range of issues had been highlighted which reflects the diverse range of organisations and sub-sectors represented by the membership of the Joint Forum.
The lack of government here and the subsequent uncertainty around funding year on year underpins the majority of issues. The voluntary and community sector is increasingly finding themselves in a vulnerable position faced with annual cuts leading to operational difficulties in some cases. It was highlighted that there is a need for an open and honest conversation to happen within the sectors and between the voluntary and community sector and government about how and why funding decisions are taken. There is a need for better joined-up working between the sectors including having space for a more proactive role from the voluntary and community sector. It was agreed that the current situation with funding decisions is unsustainable and this should be a priority issue for the Joint Forum going forward. It was proposed that a working group should be established to discuss government funding post 2019.
There was a particular focus on the issue of drug misuse which many members acknowledged is prevalent throughout many communities in Northern Ireland and has negative impacts for these communities as well as on families and individuals. It was suggested that a collaborative response is needed to address this issue and a working group between senior Department of Health officials and members of the Joint Forum should be established. This issue will be the main focus of the next Joint Forum meeting.
Joint Chair and Director of the Voluntary and Community Unit in DfC Arthur Scott also gave a brief outline on tendering, addressing bureaucracy and the government funding database. Arthur advised that there were various mechanisms of grant funding, however Central Procurement guidance is available on the Department of Communities website or click here. In relation to addressing bureaucracy, the voluntary and community sector raised concerns that some government departments had regressed in their commitments and that there is a need to reinvigorate this.
Co-chairs Arthur and Glenda facilitated a session on stakeholder engagement and consultation with a focus on how to get better at consultation. A lively and engaging discussion ensued with several suggestions put forward that could contribute to more effective and meaningful consultation. These included:
- Encouraging policy makers to have preliminary conversations with those who will be impacted by policy changes ahead of any policy proposal or consultation.
- Ensuring better joined-up working between government and policy makers and the voluntary and community sector.
- Ensuring policy makers are listening to the concerns of those who will experience the impacts of the policy and take these into consideration before making decisions.
- Utilising existing cross-sector relationships in preliminary discussions, consultation and decision making.
- Making stakeholders and consultees aware of any barriers to or pressure points in policy decisions (e.g. financial, political, legal)
- Emphasising the importance of post-consultation feedback and providing information to stakeholders about why a particular decision was taken.
- Explaining how consultation responses are weighted.
- Ensuring that the views of minority groups are adequately represented and given proper consideration.
- Ensuring equality screening takes place at the beginning of the policy making process.
- Discussing using different consultation response formats to make it more accessible.
The existing action teams also provided an update on their work. The Concordat Action Team advised that the final draft of the Concordat document (to be renamed) will be presented at the next Joint Forum meeting. Kate Clifford also provided an update on community planning and policy gaps in rural areas. Once this data has been collated, it would be presented in a paper to inform a need for the review of how tacking deprivation is currently addressed.
The next meeting of the Joint Forum will take place in June 2018.