In her first post as Deputy CEO of VONNE, Lisa Goodwin outlines the key messages which were formulated by delegates at our Annual Conference in Sunderland, and how VONNE can continue to support the sector to manage the impacts of Brexit.
Despite the fact that our conference workshops were on diverse topics such as devolution and Northern Powerhouse, UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), the role of the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and local community organisations, some very clear themes emerged which will help us shape how we take our work on Brexit forward.
In summary, there was a sense that the Brexit vote was in part an expression of a feeling of powerlessness and a lack of control. We know that the VCSE sector can help communities to regain a sense of control through local decision making. Therefore the sector needs to have a key role in setting local priorities for UKSPF, and in building sub-regional democracy through involvement in the new combined authorities emerging out of devolution, and the LEPs.
In terms of the detailed messages we are taking away…
- There was obviously major concern about the economic impact of Brexit and how that will affect VCSE organisations’ ability to support beneficiaries (who may well be greater in number) and to survive (given that available funding is likely to reduce).
VONNE is already working with a range of partners locally on regional messages to influence the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), and nationally with VCSE sector partners including NCVO, ERSA, Locality, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Brexit Civil Society Alliance and Equality & Diversity Forum to have a collective VCSE voice to ensure that the funding supports inclusive growth focusing on the economic inclusion of the most disadvantage communities and under-represented groups.The consultation for the UKSPF is expected in the next couple of months and VONNE will collate and represent the views of the North East VCSE directly into the consultation and via these regional and national forums.
In addition, as facilitators of the North East Funders’ Network we can ensure that a range of local and national charitable funders are made aware of the likely impacts of Brexit on the VCSE sector in terms of rising demand and diminishing resources and influence them to consider these issues within their grant giving strategies.
- Lack of cohesion / local community involvement in emerging devolution and health structures came across strongly, as did the feeling that Northern Powerhouse wasn’t relevant at a community level.
We know that VONNE has a key role to co-ordinate involvement in emerging structures. We already have strong links into existing and emerging combined authorities and health structures across the region and need to ensure that as well as representing the sector, we use our networks effectively, to ensure the involvement and voices of local communities within these structures. For communities voting predominately for Leave in order to ‘take back control’ from Brussels, we need to ensure that power doesn’t then remain in Whitehall or even at a combined or local authority level, and that along with funding, power and influence over local economic growth strategies becomes a reality. Within the current European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), programmes such as LEADER and Community Led Local Development have taken a much more localised approach and we will push for more of the same in the UKSPF. We will make it our business to push for UKSPF to act as a tool to address issues of lack of cohesion and lack of local influence, rather than add to them.
- The sector has a real concern about voice and equality post Brexit.
There is a clear mandate for VONNE, through our extensive network of members, to take a lead on ensuring marginalised voices are heard and social tensions and local issues are shared and fed upwards. We want to make sure that the focus on equality and inclusion which was clear within ESIF funding steams is not lost in new funding streams. Through our work bringing together Local Infrastructure Organisations across the region we will get a sense of what the impacts of Brexit are at a local community level, and we will work with those organisations to maximise their voice and influence.
- Support is needed to enable the VCSE to respond to the challenges of Brexit. There are multiple challenges over different timescales ranging from uncertainty and inability to plan, through to interruptions in funding, and community tensions.
From what our members told us at the conference we can see that the three key elements to our support need to be:
- Involvement of the sector in shaping resources post Brexit;
- Relevant advice and impact analysis as things start to happen;
- Support in transitional stages, particularly for organisations receiving EU funding.
We’ll continue to update and involve you over the coming months in how we take these elements of our work forward.
Deputy CEO, VONNE