At our recent VONNE conference on the theme of Devolution 150 delegates from the VCSE heard the respective Chairs of the 2 emerging combined authorities in the north east talk about their plans for implementing their devolution agreements. The overriding message was that its early days, they are in some ways making it up as they go along as there is no real universal blue print.
One leader talked about their consultation of communities in shaping the plans at various stages and another admitted to not having thought about the role of the VCSE in the process or how to engage them. She highlighted that no-one from the sector had knocked on her door and was immediately pinned to the wall by 2 local sector representatives!
On hearing about the lack of real engagement of the sector in the whole process Rob Williamson from Community Foundation for Tyne & Wear and Northumberland declared his outrage and came back at the speakers with a challenge of “What are you going to do on Monday morning to sort this out” or words to that effect. Hopefully the speakers went away from the conference with a clear message that they need to rethink their approach.
However as a sector we need to come together and recognise the importance of appearing as a coherent, co-ordinated and strong player that be engaged and involved in their emerging plans and structures.
As Ed Cox of IPPR North put it at the conference “we need to seize powers within the current arrangements and shape them to our own ends”. The sector is routed in communities, understands them, is trusted by them and it is working with those hardest to engage and those furthest away from the labour market. We are a key partner in tackling the inequalities agenda in the region and indeed between the north and south. We must be involved particularly given the public service transformation that is inevitable given the fiscal challenges ahead.
The public sector need us more than ever before as we are key to dleivering services and support to those who need it most. We need to be co-producing public service redesign, and we can facilitate real engagement of communities and excluded groups in the process.
VONNE is striving to secure representation within the emerging structures but we need the support of the sector behind us to ensure we have a clear mandate. We will be working with local infrastructure organisations, who are connected to our local VCS, and the larger organisations who are supporting and working with communities on a regional and sub regional footprint to ensure we jointly shape a clear message.
Watch this space.