Volunteer in food bank

‘We need to fully embrace co-production, moving beyond rhetoric and consultation to doing things differently in practice’

Published: 21/07/21 | Categories: Author: Mark Isherwood MS

This week, Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Conservatives and Welsh Labour are blogging for us about their visions for the voluntary sector in Wales. Today, Mark Isherwood MS of the Welsh Conservatives discusses the need to resource the sector effectively and the vital importance of embracing co-productive ways of working.

Wales has a long-standing history of volunteering, mutual aid and voluntary action, especially at a community level. According to WCVA there are over 49,000 voluntary organisations in Wales, of which over 6,500 are charities.

The sector in Wales is dominated by small and micro charities, with Wales having the highest proportion of micro charities in the UK.

The pandemic has had a devasting impact on fundraising, leaving many charities on a knife edge, with some losing their presence in Wales.

However, since the start of the pandemic, we know that record numbers of people in Wales have given up their time freely to help other people in their community, with tens of thousands of people volunteering to help support the NHS and the wider emergency response.

The Voluntary Sector also played a vital role during the pandemic in sharing essential messages to communities and the people they support.

The Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee February report, The impact of COVID-19 on the voluntary sector states, ‘we were told of so many good examples of the voluntary sector going the extra mile to support both individuals and public services which were under considerable strain. It is clear that the response to the pandemic would have been far weaker if the voluntary sector had either not responded, or been prevented from responding, in the way it did’.

Resources and support

As WCVA stated in its response to the Finance Committee’s consultation on Welsh Government’s draft budget proposals, ‘the voluntary sector must be supported and resourced to fulfil its central role in the recovery from the pandemic’ and ‘co-production must play a key part in the design and delivery of preventative services’.

As they also stated, the sector ‘continues to require greater resource to respond to increasing demand on its services’ and ‘the sector has many groups and organisations which have developed to redress specific problems or prevent them worsening’.

We therefore need to properly resource our charitable and voluntary sectors, as they are also preventing massive additional financial pressure on public health and care services. In other words, without the extra investment required, it’s going to cost the Treasury and the Exchequer in Wales a lot more money than they would otherwise require to prevent that demand being created. That is why sticking plaster policies are just not good enough – we need to find the underlying causes and do something to address them.

Prevention is vital if people and organisations in Wales are going to address the major challenges we face and are going to face – taking practical action to stop problems arising in the first place.

We must therefore go beyond existing models of service-user consultation and generally co-produce public services with users and communities, to better deliver public services to an ageing population, to people facing illness and disability, to the economically inactive, and to those living in social isolation – acknowledging that everyone is an equal partner.

Beyond rhetoric

We need to fully embrace co-production, moving beyond rhetoric and consultation to doing things differently in practice, with service professionals, services users and their communities working side by side to provide solutions.

Welsh Government needs to work in partnership with, and empower, the voluntary sector, community groups and other social entrepreneurs to help deliver the solutions to the long-term problems of our most deprived communities.

The voluntary sector will continue to play a pivotal role in supporting the post COVID world, where the recovery from the pandemic presents an opportunity to reshape our public services and public service delivery, working with the support and expertise of the voluntary sector, to build an ‘enabling Wales’ in which local people are empowered and asset-based community development is established as a key principle.