Peter Davies, Chair of WCVA, recently took part in an evidence session with the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.
The Committee, which included Members of the Senedd Mike Hedges, Neil Hamilton and Janet Finch-Saunders, was looking particularly at the work of the Green Recovery Task and Finish Group, the membership of which includes Peter Davies and is chaired by Sir David Henshaw. The group is tasked with how to ensure a green recovery that will help accelerate Wales’ transition to a low carbon economy, as well as becoming a healthier and more equal nation. Sir David told the Committee the group was determined to demonstrate projects that can be done in the short-term as well as longer term, and that it is important to mobilise people, communities, and places to take the agenda seriously along with the big strategic levers from government and other institutions.
The conversation turned to funding of the sector and community empowerment. Peter Davies spoke on working together with a bottom-up approach and said there is a need to harness a community-led response in recovery. He said there are some areas where legislation can help, noting that WCVA has been looking at whether there are lessons to be learned from the Community Empowerment Act in Scotland to give more power to communities. He argued there is scope for a green investment fund that can take short-term money and make it into a long-term legacy, saying the sector faces a continual need to respond to short-term issues. Sir Henshaw said there is money available if ‘you start looking for it’, saying there are ways of releasing resource and getting it matched by the private sector.
Neil Hamilton MS asked about Natural Resources Wales’ role in supporting the sector, noting that it is stretched in its own resources. Sir Henshaw said NRW is trying to change its business model to work with others more and said this agenda supports NRW’s mission. Peter Davies said the voluntary sector has been significantly hit, particularly those relying on trading and fundraising, highlighting staff on furlough and pointing out that the opportunity for volunteering has been reduced. He said there is a need for creative cross-sector working, adding that local nature partnerships are important but a broader approach of Welsh Government and other funders looking at how they tackle the issue of providing support to the sector is needed. Neil Hamilton said the scale of activity that is required often freezes out more local contributors and there is a need to bring together the fragmented organisations that have a role to play. Peter Davies pointed the committee to the developing role of local nature partnerships coordinating work at a local level and enabling local action, and recognised the important role that Wales Environment Link plays in terms of coordinating at a national level.
The session concluded with Janet Finch-Saunders MS asking what recommendations the group has made to the minister on support for environmental organisations and whether it has considered the proposal put forward by Wales Environment Link to have some form of core funding. Peter Davies said there is a case for looking at core funding issues, pointing to the importance of the County Voluntary Councils network, which has benefited from core funding. He recognised the difficulties around core funding for government, saying easier solutions would be better constructed funding models, particularly tackling the issues of short-term funding and the constant need for innovative funding. He argued there is a need for an overall look at how the funding structure impacts upon environmental organisations across the board.