Third sector leaders call for alternative decision-making in absence of executive

Third sector leaders expect Northern Ireland to become more politically unstable over the next 12 months and believe action is needed to ensure decisions can be made in the absence of an Executive, a new report reveals.

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The Ulster Bank and CO3 3rd Sector Index is a key barometer of Northern Ireland’s third sector, involving a quarterly survey of CO3 members who include the leaders of some of Northern Ireland’s largest charities and social enterprises. Services they provide range from care, to counselling and support, and training and development.

65 per cent of respondents believe that political instability in Northern Ireland will worsen over the year ahead and almost two-thirds expect the Northern Ireland economy to deteriorate over the same period, an increase on the previous quarter (61 per cent).

As fears for the economy and political instability continue, almost three quarters (72 per cent) of third sector leaders advocate for a shift in the political decision-making process. While opinion is mixed, only 24 per cent believe in maintaining the status quo, opting for civil servants to make decisions about Northern Ireland in the absence of a Stormont Executive.

Overall, third sector leaders believe the responsibility for making decisions about Northern Ireland should fall with the Secretary of State (27 per cent), a joint British-Irish intergovernmental conference (25 per cent) or a Citizens’ Assembly (20 per cent).

One respondent to the survey said: “Having no decision makers, having no decisions being made, having civil servants who are afraid to commission anything new and being stuck in contracts that are out of date, under paying us and undervaluing us is frustrating and leaving us unable to have much flexibility in responding to the needs of our groups.”

Despite the uncertain environment though, respondents say that their organisations continue to increase employment and remain optimistic that turnover will increase.

The latest report shows an increase in employment levels to deal with an increasing demand for services, with 33 per cent of organisations increasing their headcount in the past quarter, the highest rate of increase over the previous 12 months. This comes as organisations are once again reporting continued increases in demand for their services (67 per cent). As a result, 74 per cent expect their turnover to increase or remain the same.

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Nora Smith, Chief Executive of CO3, says: “Once again, the political situation in Northern Ireland remains a key concern for third sector organisations and one which they don’t expect to improve. Our latest report demonstrates that the lack of a government is impacting on the sector however the resilience of organisations is also apparent. What is clear is that the third sector needs government decisions to be made and the majority feel that the current situation where decisions aren’t being made is unsustainable.”

Commenting, Richard Ramsey, Chief Economist, NI, at Ulster Bank says: “Despite no shortage of political uncertainty, the Northern Ireland economy has been resilient in the past year, with private sector activity continuing to increase and labour market statistics posting a number of records of the positive variety. The latest Ulster Bank and CO3 Third Sector Index suggests that this is being reflected in the third sector where despite issues being created by a lack of decision-making including in relation to funding, third sector organisations report that they are seeing growing demand and are increasing their headcount. Whether this is sustainable in a situation where political stalemate continues and the economy as a whole feels the increasing squeeze of rising inflation and stagnant wages remains to be seen.”

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