Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit - Supporting Third Sector Coordination in response to Brexit

In this blog post Charles Whitmore draws attention to recent discussions with the Welsh Government on the Shared Prosperity Fund and summarises the Forum’s recently published position statement.

Since its launch in summer 2018 The Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit has been engaging in dialogue with a wide variety of organisations and has been working with other devolved and UK wide Brexit civil society networks including:

·       The Brexit Civil Society Project in Scotland.

·       The Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland.

·       The newly relaunched Brexit Civil Society Alliance which operates UK wide.

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On 24 October 2018 it launched its new website – www.brexitforumwales.org and shared its initial forum findings and position statement with the Welsh Government. The Forum intends this to be a living document and will update it regularly as more organisations feed into the dialogue and new Brexit related challenges and opportunities emerge.

The Welsh Government welcomed the statement. The position statement was discussed in a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance Mark Drakeford, who supported the asks in the Forum findings. He noted that the document, which is open for all third sector organisations to contribute to, will be useful in reinforcing Wales’ voice in discussions with UK Government.

The statement highlights the sector’s aspirations to:

·       ensure that proper scrutiny of Brexit related legislation takes place

·       ensure that devolution is respected

·       ensure that environmental and equality standards are not put at risk by Brexit or future free trade agreements and that these continue to progress

·       ensure that no loss of rights occurs as a result of Brexit, including human rights, children’s rights and labour rights.

·       protect vulnerable individuals who are most at risk of being harmed by Brexit, such as those struck by poverty, EU citizens and migrant communities as well as those effected by post-Brexit rises in hate crime.

·       not lose any funding as a result of Brexit

·       keep its partnership with the public and private sectors in shaping and administrating funding, which the sector views as essential in contributing to a fair and inclusive economy

What role for the Third Sector in shaping and delivering the Shared Prosperity Fund in Wales?

The Forum asked Mark Drakeford for an update on discussions with UK Government on the Shared Prosperity Fund and where the Welsh Government stood regarding the role of the third sector in Wales in shaping and delivering the new fund. In response he explained that the UK Government had shared no new information with the Welsh Government, and that it is possible that none may emerge this calendar year. The Welsh Government noted that they have expressed their opposition to Shared Prosperity Fund and are pushing the UK Government to ensure that:

·       The amount of funding matches that which Wales currently receives.

·       The decision-making powers regarding the administration and delivery of the funding remain in Wales. This point was also echoed in the recent National Assembly finance committee report on ‘Preparations for Replacing EU Funding for Wales’.

The third sector organisations present at the 24 October meeting welcomed these comments and the Cabinet Secretaries’ commitments that if Wales can secure replacement funding, and if the powers over this funding remain in Wales:

·       the Welsh Government intends to continue the current partnership model used in the Programme Monitoring Committee

·       continue to use a multiannual framework where possible.

·       maintain the social cohesion, equality and human rights focus of current structural funds.

·       Mark Drakeford also reiterated the Welsh Government’s commitment not only to prevent any regression of equality and human rights in Wales, but to ensure progress continues in this area after Brexit

With a consultation on the Shared Prosperity Fund expected before the end of the year, organisations continue to be concerned about the potential for funding to be lost as a result of the new fund and a variety of organisations are working to inform its development.

Wider discussion on the Shared Prosperity Fund

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A recent Equality and Diversity Forum report notes that EU funding is a lifeline for organisations that rely on it and any loss may threaten their sustainability and put vital community services at risk. A recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report ‘Prosperous Places: Designing the UK Shared Prosperity Fund’ also argued that the default return of powers to the devolved administrations provided for in the Withdrawal Act, should also apply to the governance of regional development money under the new fund. The report further recommends that the methodology for allocating funds be subject to an open negotiations process using the existing machinery of intergovernmental relations (joint ministerial committees), that the fund should operate outside of the Barnett formula, and should at least match existing levels of funding.

The next Forum gathering will take place on 5 December 2018 in Cardiff, where academics will deliver and update on the Brexit process and its implications for the third sector in Wales and a sector wide discussion will take place. Please get in touch if you would like to join. The Forum is also able to offer tailored information on the law and policy of Brexit, so please feel free to send in your questions by email or via our website: www.brexitforumwales.org

The Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit (the Forum) is a joint initiative between the Wales Governance Centre and Wales Council for Voluntary Action and funded by the Legal Education Foundation (LEF). It was set up to provide information on Brexit related law and policy to Third Sector organisations in Wales and to support coordination in response to Brexit.