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Shaping the Future Relationship with Government

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Shaping the Future Relationship with Government

by Denise Hayward, Co-Chair Joint Forum – on behalf of the VCS Panel

Shaping the Future Relationship with GovernmentThe 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 the government departments three times per year as the Joint Forum.

The Forum has been working on a review of the Concordat – an agreement which underpins the relationship and which was last updated in 2011.  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 to underpin these relationships in 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 on 14 November 2023 in preparation for the public consultation by the Department for Communities on the values and principles of a new agreement.  This consultation launched on 15 November, and we would encourage everyone in the sector to respond to this to help to shape these important relationships.

In addition, the VCS Panel will be hosting a series of face to face and online events in January 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 the final agreement.  More details on venues etc. to follow in the next few weeks.

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