Sid McDowell: ‘We face a period in our history in which societal needs are increasing at a seemingly alarming rate’

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We were delighted that Sid McDowell, chair of NIACRO, agreed to be the guest editor of the 50th issue of VIEW which examined Crime and Justice issues in Northern Ireland and further afield.

By Sid McDowell, guest editor, 50th issue of VIEW

Reading through previous editions of VIEW, I am struck by the increasing importance of partnerships for the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sectors. Partnerships amongst themselves and partnerships with local and central government.

It seems that, in this vindictive age of austerity, and in the face of the pressures associated with competitiveness and the requirement to demonstrate value for money, partnerships can and do help to improve the effectiveness of service delivery and to build organisational resilience.

We face a period in our history in which societal needs are increasing at a seemingly alarming rate; poverty is deepening, homelessness becoming more prevalent, and our education and health services appear to be entering a kind of free fall.

Against that background, one major worry is the propensity for government to continue to cut funding available to the VCSE sectors, even when they are increasingly reliant on these sectors to deliver frontline services.

Hitting the VCSE sectors with ongoing cuts appears to demonstrate a lack of understanding about the valuable support they are providing to the most vulnerable in our society. It causes one to question whether many in the political world still harbour the impression that the VCSE sectors can be ‘turned on and off like a tap’ and will always ‘bounce back’ when they are deemed by government to be needed.

When we consider the ability of the VCSE sectors to deliver locally sensitive, cost-effective services at the point of need there is an unquestionable business case for investing in new strategic partnerships with government. Partnerships in which the VCSE sectors are recognised as valued, strategic partners with government in the delivery of a better life for all, particularly but not exclusively the most vulnerable.

This requires government initiatives to embed the VCSE sectors’ contribution and necessary resources at the design stage and to adopt a joint approach to delivering solutions to civic society problems. Initiatives must also be underpinned by extensive, genuine public consultation to help secure the contribution and ‘buy-in’ of all sectors: VCSE; local and national government; and the business community.

John McMullan, lately of the Bryson Charitable Group, has to be acknowledged for championing efforts pointing towards a new, changed form of partnership working. Working towards change is a challenge for everyone, at the individual and organisational level. Innovation is (and always will be) a challenge for VCSE sector organisations, as they strive to adapt to changing needs and circumstances. But the challenge to change and innovate is not solely for the VCSE sectors but must be embraced by those responsible for the delivery of public services too.

Criminal Justice statutory agencies rightly challenges those it cares for to be responsive to change. I am encouraged that it is also working to create real partnerships that will help to support this process of change. The crying need though is for wider public sector innovation which displays rather more imagination than casual resort to competition and tendering.

As NIACRO embarks on a new Corporate Plan 2018-2023, the organisation’s long experience assures us of the ongoing need for the services that NIACRO provides. It also evidences the resilience of the organisation; its ability to come through difficult times and confirms the support that NIACRO’s mission attracts from a wide range of stakeholders.

As you read this edition of VIEW, I trust that you too will be encouraged by some of the innovations on display. Our hope must be that those responsible for the future direction of the interface between government and the VCSE sectors will take note.

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