Hustings Event Brings North East VCSE Sector to the focus of NECA Mayoral Election.

First published by VONNE on 19 April 2024 here.

Over 200 representatives from the North East Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector attended an event to hear North East Combined Authority (NECA) candidates discuss their ambitions, how they will address the sector’s needs if elected, and respond to key questions.

Organised by the North East VCSE support body VONNE, Connected Voice and local infrastructure support bodies across the NECA, the hustings was a unique opportunity for the mayoral candidates to outline how they will engage with and support the needs of the VCSE sector, and use their regional voice to inform their policies to strengthen the region.

This new mayoral position arises from the North East Devolution deal which brings together seven local authorities into one combined authority, including County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, and Sunderland. The devolution deal is identified as an ‘opportunity to strengthen business, community and place collaboration & voice’  (see NEMCA Policy Paper for more information) with a financial commitment worth over £4.2 Billion over the next 30 years.

There are nearly 7,000 VCSE based in North East England, employing over 37,000 people and accruing a financial value of £1.65 billion (Third Sector Trends Report, 2023). In a briefing paper presented to the candidates prior to the hustings, North East VCSE representatives called for a VCSE Leadership board, VCSE Assembly and a commitment to securing resources to enable meaningful VCSE sector engagement and involvement in NEMCA.

64% of North East VCSE organisations work exclusively at a local level, often embedded within the most disadvantaged communities and working with individuals with multiple, complex needs. Taking questions from the floor, much of the discussion focussed upon the strong contribution the sector makes to the local economy and the unique, trust-based relationship they hold with local communities. There was a clear ask for candidates to recognise this and strengthen investment to support the Sector’s key role in building stronger communities and tackling inequalities.

The hustings gave candidates a platform to discuss how they can genuinely make positive changes by agreeing a consistent, cross-sectoral approach, including the VCSE sector, to tackle cross-cutting policy areas like economic inequality, poverty, health inequality and climate change across the North East geography.

Speaking about the importance of involving the charity sector in NECA, Lisa Goodwin, CEO of Connected Voice, said: “Given that the new authority will bring additional money and more powers to our region, we feel it is vitally important that VCSE organisations are aware and engaged.

“We know that many VCSE organisations have struggled with the impacts of inflation and reduced availability of funding (especially public sector funding) over the past few years. For too long we have been providing a ‘sticking plaster’ where people have not been able to access other support. So, it is obvious to me that we should use the opportunity of a new Authority to try to push more investment into the preventative services that so many VCSE sector organisations provide.”

Speaking about the event, Interim CEO of VONNE, Jane Hartley said:

“It was inspiring to witness so many VCSE sector representatives engage in our Hustings event and encouraging to hear collective recognition by all candidates present of the importance and value of our VCSE sector.

“There was recognition of the sectors ever increasing challenges around funding, recruiting volunteers and navigating complex commissioning and procurement processes to secure public finances, with a consensus across all candidates to work with the sector to identify ways to address these challenges.

“Finally, it was encouraging to hear the candidates in attendance commit to our ask for meaningful involvement of the sector in NECA, ensuring the VCSE sector is truly involved in the governance structure and that we nominate our own VCSE cabinet representative. We look forward to continuing these conversations with the elected NECA mayor in May.”

If you missed the event you can watch the recording online here.

ENDS

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