Third sector calls for decisions as political vacuum persists

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.

Monday, 30th July 2018, 7:00 am
CO3 chief executive Nora Smith with Mark Crimmins of Ulster Bank, left, and Ulster Bank Chief Economist for Northern Ireland Richard Ramsey

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 provided range from care, to counselling and support, and training and development.

Almost two thirds (65%) of respondents believe that political instability in Northern Ireland will worsen over the year ahead and the same number expect the economy to deteriorate over the same period, up from 61% in the previous quarter.

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As fears for the economy and political instability continue, almost three quarters (72%) of third sector leaders advocate for a shift in the political decision-making process. While opinion is mixed, only 24% 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%), a joint British-Irish intergovernmental conference (25%) or a Citizens’ Assembly (20%).

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

“Our latest report demonstrates that the lack of a government is impacting on the sector however the resilience of organisations is also apparent,” said CO3 chief executive Nora Smith.

“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.”

Richard Ramsey, Chief Economist for Northern Ireland at Ulster Bank, said: “The latest 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 feels the increasing squeeze of rising inflation and stagnant wages remains to be seen.”