The meeting focused on an update on the Programme for Government Outcomes Based Approach, a discussion around the fundamental review of the Concordat and the Joint Forum as an entity, an overview of the two-child cap policy and rape clause as well as other key issues that are facing the sector.
Joe Reynolds from the Executive Office attended the Joint Forum meeting and delivered presentation on the Programme for Government and the Outcomes Based Approach. He provided an update on the consultation responses to the Programme for Government and advised that work was ongoing with the document. A lack of political leadership is clearly causing problems for programme delivery as well as adding to the funding crisis faced by the Voluntary and Community Sector resulting with many organisations lurching from year to year with no ability to plan long term.
It was highlighted that the Voluntary and Community Sector were really leading the way in areas such as evidence lead policy and in measuring impacts and that the government could learn from this.
The main focus of the meeting was on the ongoing review of the Concordat and the role of the Joint Forum. It was argued that for this document to be given the status it requires, it should sit alongside the Programme for Government as a mechanism for delivering the outcomes.
Both government and voluntary and community sector representatives participated in a breakout discussion of the Concordat and the Joint Forum focusing on three questions:
- What benefits and outcomes would you expect to see if the Joint Forum was working well? What mechanisms would help deliver this?
- How can we ensure that the right people in the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector and in government (including statutory bodies and local government) are fully involved in the business of the Joint Forum?
- Can you suggest good examples of case studies to illustrate where government and the VCSE sector are working well together to co-deliver positive outcomes?
Common themes were identified around how the Joint Forum should look and work and there was a significant emphasis of the need for an improved working relationship between the voluntary and community sector and the government with buy in from senior government representatives. It was agreed that a working Joint Forum should be an equal partnership between the sectors with mutual understanding. It was highlighted that the Joint Forum, working well, could be an effective vehicle for informing and shaping policy with the cross cutting nature of the Forum playing a critical role in the effective delivery of Programme for Government outcomes. The experience, expertise and resources that exist in the Joint Forum should be utilised to tackle issues and outcomes and feed back recommendations to government. Messaging around the work of the Joint Forum both internally and externally would also be of benefit to both sectors and would facilitate a greater understanding of the purpose of the Joint Forum.
Attendees were also able to come up with a range of examples of the government and voluntary and community sector working together and this helped to give members an idea of how this work could be replicated to deliver outcomes going forward.
After the group discussion, Kellie Turtle from the Women’s Resource Development Agency (WRDA) gave an overview of the Women’s Policy Group paper on ‘Opposing the two-child tax credit cap and rape clause’. She provided an analysis of the key equality and human rights impacts of the implementation of these measures that were introduced in the UK on 6th April 2017. It was highlighted that there is a gap with this policy, especially with regards to the rape clause. Not only does this clause have the potential to re-traumatise the victim but it will also have an impact on those third-party assessor and health professionals who may not have the training to deal with these kinds of situations and who by law in Northern Ireland have a duty to report this to the authorities. Other members agreed to help raise awareness of this issue amongst their various networks.
With regards to issues that are currently impacting the sector, members noted matters such as the new requirements from the Department for Infrastructure around minibus licensing, issues around the spend and progress of the Fresh Start Agreement, the Charity Commission Register, the new General Data Protection Regulations and issues associated with the roll out of Universal Credit.
The challenge of succession planning in the Voluntary and Community Sector was also raised and it was agreed that there is a need to ensure work is being done around boards to develop skills and in relation to the Charity Commission and GDPR requirements. It was agreed that a group should be formed to draft up Terms of Reference for a strategic project for succession plans.
The next meeting of the Joint Forum will take place in February 2018, date to be confirmed.