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A new All-Party Group (APG) on the Voluntary and Community Sector established





Thursday 2 May 2024 marked the launch of a new All-Party Group (APG) on the Voluntary and Community Sector, established to highlight the value of the sector and to ensure the issues affecting organisations are recognised in the Assembly.

The stated purpose of the APG is to ‘ensure issues affecting voluntary and community organisations are recognised and discussed throughout the workings of the Northern Ireland Assembly, in order to recognise the value of the sector and ensure that the relationship between government and voluntary and community organisations contributes to the wider well-being of people in Northern Ireland and that organisations are enabled to operate to their full potential.’

Chaired by Diane Forsythe MLA with NICVA as Secretariat, this APG will provide a vital platform to advocate for the future role and sustainability of our sector and provide meaningful opportunities to engage directly with local MLAs on a collaborative basis.

This first meeting was extremely well attended, with over 70 voluntary and community sector representatives in attendance as observers, and representation from across a range of political parties. The Agenda for this first meeting included a discussion on a forward work programme for the APG and a presentation from NICVA member organisations on ‘Building an Inclusive Labour Market’.

Addressing Sector Challenges

Speaking at the APG, NICVA Chief Executive, Celine McStravick highlighted some of the key challenges faced across the sector, including the impact of the absence of a functioning NI Executive, short termism, and continued uncertainty with regard to government funding to the sector and the loss of vital funding streams like the European Social Fund.

With tens of thousands of staff and volunteers working across health, education, justice, and infrastructure, the sector plays a vital role in society, contributing to all areas of public life. However, funding cuts and increasing demands have taken a toll on organisations and their staff. Celine called for cross-departmental collaboration and commitment to find solutions in partnership with the sector and was hopeful that the APG could help profile these calls across government and support the sector on common issues.

Impacts of UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UK SPF) Funding Uncertainty

Andrew Irvine, representing the Belfast Works consortium, Paula Jennings, representing the consortium PROSPER and Stephen Barr representing the Youth Start Consortium, shared insights into the sector’s response to tackling economic inactivity and highlighted the uncertainty surrounding continued funding, in particular the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UK SPF), currently due to come to an end in March 2025. They stressed the unique and critical role of the sector in meeting the needs of those furthest from the labour market, and for whom mainstream support is not readily accessible or is failing. They stressed the importance of sustained financial support from Government to continue providing crucial services and the potential for impact on some of our most vulnerable individuals and communities, including women, those with a disability and young people should funding to this sector be lost. Clarity in terms of decision making on the future of UKSPF funds was needed urgently to protect current investment and enable organisations to plan and prepare effectively. Without surety in terms of funding vital resources from the sector, including staffing will inevitably be lost.

Looking ahead

In response to the challenges faced, the APG pledged to advocate for the sector’s interests within the Assembly and to push for greater recognition of the sector’s contributions. APG Chair, Diane Forsythe, MLA said the new Programme for Government should contain a critical aim to join up the work of the sector and Executive Departments.

An Assembly motion on the role of the sector with regard to addressing Economic Inactivity and funding uncertainty incluing UK SPF funding was proposed and a draft for this discussed.

The theme for this years APG workplan is ‘Valuing the Sector’ and a number of initiatives are planned including an engagement event with MLAs at Stormont in September.

Diane Forsythe, MLA said the group were keen to hear views from across the sector as to key issues to be championed by the APG.

A note of the meeting will be available to view here soon,

The next APG meeting is scheduled for June 2024, with details to be confirmed.

You can find out more information about the APG including its officers and members here.  

For further information on the All-Party Group please contact Kathy Maguire, NICVA at kathy.maguire@nicva.org.

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