Brexit: priorities for the third sector in Wales?

Ruth Marks explains why the EU referendum result is already impacting on the way they do business in the third sector

Ruth Marks is Chief Executive of Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA)

There can be no denying that, over the last year, we’ve entered a period of extraordinary social and political change that will transform the way Wales does business. This also applies to the third sector, which comprises 33,000 voluntary organisations and almost one million volunteers who do vital work across the country, and is estimated to be worth £3.7bn to the Welsh economy.  

That’s why we are today publishing our Brexit Snapshot Survey (and in Welsh here), specifically focusing on the personal views of professionals working in our 3,000 plus member organisations, as part of WCVA’s brand new event, gofod3, taking place in Cardiff City Stadium. Held in recent weeks, this straightforward survey, using the Cardiff-based tech start up DooPoll, offers a rare insight into views that are not ordinarily expressed and certainly not in relation to such a challenging issue.  We received 375 responses in total. All respondents were guaranteed confidentiality, with only one self-identifying question, which related to the sector in which they work. The majority of respondents (87%) work for the third sector (including charities and volunteering); 10% work in the public sector and 3% work in the private sector. 

This snapshot survey provides us with an indication of the views held across the third sector, and is helpful in shaping the way WCVA should respond to Brexit. Already, it is affecting the way we work. Certainly gofod3 was partly conceived in response to the EU referendum result and the seemingly ever-changing economic and political landscape.

‘Brexit and its impact on the third sector’ is one of two member-only sessions at gofod3, and will form, together with the survey results, WCVA’s written evidence submission to the new Exiting the European Union House of Commons Select Committee and its Inquiry into ‘the UK’s negotiating objectives for its withdrawal from the EU’.

With one of the highest response rates ever for a WCVA survey, it provides us with a keener understanding of the information, services and advice we need to provide. And with over a third of WCVA member workers already either indirectly or directly impacted by the EU referendum result, and as many once Article 50 is triggered, we need to be on the front foot.

Overwhelmingly, this survey shows there is real appetite for us to provide direction and a clear standpoint on behalf of the third sector in the lead up to the UK leaving the EU. This is in keeping with our new strategic framework, launched at our AGM in November 2016.

The survey also suggests that we need to increase our support in areas other than funding. Almost three quarters believe the EU referendum result has led to an increase in hate crime and exposed deep rooted problems in our community, with over a quarter seeing this with their own eyes. This may explain why survey respondents prioritised ‘protecting existing social, economic, environmental and human rights’ and ‘building community cohesion and minimising hate crime’ over ‘safeguarding funding opportunities’.

There is no mistaking that we have a responsibility to provide the sector with the tools to successfully navigate their way through the coming weeks, months and years. Over half believe things will be much harder for the third sector once the UK leaves the EU, with over three quarters nervous about their own future prospects. This, clearly, is contrary to the way Wales voted in June.

Moreover, despite the timetable already laid out by the Prime Minister, the majority of professionals in WCVA member organisations would rather that Article 50 not be triggered. Three quarters feel largely negative about the impact of the EU referendum result on Wales generally and believe the UK Government will not safeguard the interests of Wales during its Brexit negotiations with the EU.

This needs to be tackled head on. As the national membership organisation for the third sector in Wales we need to try to reconcile these differences. Providing forums, like the Brexit session at gofod3, that offers space for debate and quality information from experts, like Emyr Lewis of Blake Morgan and Dr Rachel Minto of the Wales Governance Centre, is a start.

Brexit requires us to think differently, and we need to rise to the challenge, and make new connections. There may be risks that we need to minimise but also opportunities we must identify and take.  

Regardless of how one voted in June 2016, the fact remains that a third of people regularly volunteer for causes and organisations that matter to them. This kind of commitment is something that we need to preserve and grow. gofod3 is about bolstering this force for good, flying the flag for the third sector, and to help develop a thriving sector – Brexit or no Brexit.

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