Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau Y Bumed Senedd

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee - Fifth Senedd

02/11/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell MS
Huw Irranca-Davies MS
John Griffiths MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mark Isherwood MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Carol Mack Cadeirydd, Fforwm Cyllidwyr Cymru
Chair, Wales Funders Forum
Fiona Liddell Rheolwr, Helpforce Cymru
Manager, Helpforce Cymru
Jas Bains Prif Weithredwr, Hafod
Chief Executive, Hafod
John Rose Cyfarwyddwr Cymru, Cronfa Gymunedol y Loteri Genedlaethol
Wales Director, National Lottery Community Fund
Kate Griffiths Cyfarwyddwr Cymru, y Groes Goch Brydeinig
Director for Wales, British Red Cross
Noreen Blanluet Prif Ymgynghorydd, Rhwydwaith Cydgynhyrchu Cymru
Lead Consultant, Co-production Network for Wales
Rebecca Watkins Cyfarwyddwr y Sefydliad, Moondance Foundation
Foundation Director, Moondance Foundation
Richard Williams Prif Weithredwr, y Sefydliad Cymunedol yng Nghymru
Chief Executive, Community Foundation Wales
Ruth Marks Prif Weithredwr, Cyngor Gweithredu Gwirfoddol Cymru
Chief Executive, Wales Council for Voluntary Action

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Jonathan Baxter Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Yan Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:45.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:45. 

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Welcome to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. The first item on the agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. I welcome all Members to this virtual meeting. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting, which was published last Thursday. However, this meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.

Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. I would remind all participants that microphones will be controlled centrally, so do not turn them on or off individually, but you will need to accept a prompt to unmute each time you are called to speak.

Caroline Jones MS has left the committee and I would like to thank her for her contribution while she was a member. We've received one apology for absence today, from Dawn Bowden MS. Are there any declarations of interest? No. One other matter from me before we go on to item 2, and that is, if for any reason I was to drop out of the meeting due to technological failure, for example, the committee has agreed that Huw Irranca-Davies MS will temporarily Chair while I try to rejoin. 

2. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith ar y Sector Gwirfoddol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 1
2. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact on the Voluntary Sector: Evidence Session 1

Item 2 is the committee's inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact on the voluntary sector, and our first evidence session with stakeholders. I'm very pleased to welcome Ruth Marks, chief executive of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Fiona Liddell, manager of Helpforce Cymru, and Noreen Blanluet—I'm sure I've got that wrong—lead consultant of the Co-production Network for Wales. Welcome to you all. I'd like to invite each of you to make a short opening statement, no longer, I'm afraid, than two and a half minutes. Perhaps we could do that, then, in the order of Ruth for the WCVA, then Helpforce Cymru, and then the Co-production Network for Wales. So, over to you then, Ruth.

Prynhawn da, good afternoon. Thank you very much, Chair, and good afternoon, everybody. I'm going to make three points about impact, funding and learning for best recovery. These are informed by WCVA members and partners, including the county voluntary councils and volunteer centres across Wales.

Firstly, impact. The coronavirus pandemic has increased hardship in Wales, leading to greater demand for all voluntary sector services. The sector responded to this demand in an inspirational way, but this is at a real cost. Many volunteers found themselves in the shielded or vulnerable categories. Like all of us, people working and volunteering for charities and social enterprises are tired. Fundraising has dried up and the sector is experiencing significant financial losses. As a consequence, charities are less able to help those people we work with at the same time as when demand for our services is at its greatest.

Secondly, funding. The sector is preparing for increased austerity, the departure from the EU, as well as the continued impact of COVID-19. Charities have robust accounting systems for restricted and unrestricted funds. Many funders have recently increased flexibility in their grant management. Given the length of the crisis, and in order to make the most effective use of funds going forwards, consideration should be given to being able to ring-fence and carry forward funds across financial years.

And finally, learning for best recovery. The sense of community spirit is a really positive outcome from the crisis. Many volunteers and communities have come together to support each other, and this includes household-name charities as well as new informal networks providing mutual aid. It is great that so many people have become more engaged in their immediate neighbourhoods. The learning point is that place-based community-led actions are quicker, more targeted and therefore very effective in their response. In terms of long-lasting resilience, ensuring a balance between any top-down investment and community-led recovery will be vital. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.

13:50

Diolch yn fawr, Ruth. Now Fiona, then, for Helpforce Cymru.

Diolch. Thank you. I am employed by Wales Council for Voluntary Action and have been involved in various roles concerning the promotion and support of volunteering for about 17 years. My current role is as Helpforce Cymru manager, and that has a particular focus on volunteering that supports and benefits our health and care services. During COVID-19, I've had contact with volunteering leads in the NHS, local authorities and third sector organisations and my remarks will be particularly about the volunteering response that we have seen.

The mass response of volunteers has been both a revelation of the public practical support and also has created its problems, in that our infrastructure systems have been overwhelmed and unable to channel this community resource as quickly and effectively as one would like. So maybe individual volunteers experienced frustration for not being able to be given anything to do and not understanding why this was the case.

We have recognised during this period the significant contributions of volunteers across a wide spectrum of volunteering, from the informal community action to the more formal, defined and targeted volunteer roles within organisations. At the informal end, we have seen community initiatives springing up all around Wales. Some are completely fresh initiatives, and many of them are building on what has pre-existed, either repurposing existing clubs or networks, or networking different community initiatives to create a flexible co-ordinated local support. Some of these dovetailed in with statutory organisations, and some remain separate and unconnected.

At the other end of the spectrum—the more formal end—within the NHS perhaps represents the most formal volunteering. All health boards have got their established programmes and co-ordinators. There was a big challenge for them in coping with ever-changing situations, unknown needs, and with internal protocols that really were not designed for speedy onboarding of volunteers. Considerable differences were seen by different health boards and it was quite difficult to get a national picture, because volunteer reporting currently doesn't feature significantly within health boards' reporting to Welsh Government. We need to look at ways of strengthening and volunteering across the whole spectrum, both as a contingency for the future and also as a way of harnessing the amazing community resource that we have in time, commitment and goodwill of so many people, for the benefit of patients, staff and members of our communities. Thank you.

Thank you. I'm speaking on behalf of the Co-production Network for Wales. We are a third sector organisation and a member of the WCVA, but I'm bringing specifically a co-production and citizen involvement lens to this feedback. My three main points are that, first of all, the statutory and the third sector have different strengths and we have seen things work very well in terms of the response to the pandemic when each does what it's really good at: the structure and the support from the statutory sector enabling the agile front-line response of the third sector. It's been patchy, it's not been, you know, as positive everywhere, but there have been some really good examples of where this can really live up to its full potential. 

My second point is that resourcing is a big concern for everyone in the third sector. We were already talking about it before COVID happened. With 10 years plus of austerity and more and more referrals being put on the shoulders of the third sector, there's a concern whether we are being enabled to respond to the need that's out there, and this has been exacerbated during the lockdown. I think, as well as the funding and the resourcing more widely, to enable the third sector to make any immediate response and work in the heat of the moment, we need to be thinking longer term as well about what this is going to look like in a year or two years or five years, and how we are going to enable third sector organisations to endure and keep doing the work that they need to do.

This long-term thinking angle links in to, probably, my main point, which is that across both the statutory and the third sector, there is uneven understanding and practice of co-production and citizen involvement. Where it's strong the results speak for themselves, but actually we could do with creating a better understanding and enabling organisations to gain in maturity in terms of understanding when do we co-produce and leverage that citizen energy, when do we not, and how do we do this skilfully, so that we're making better use of all the resources, not just to support the third sector organisations to be able to do more with what they have, as well as the statutory organisations that are always being asked to do more with less, but also to make use and not waste this community energy, so that it doesn't vanish away because people's good will, we haven't taken them up on it, but actually being able to develop the resilience in communities of people doing with each other for their own community, which will support the efforts of the third sector and the statutory sector. Thank you very much.

13:55

Thank you very much, Noreen. Okay. Well, thanks to all three of you. Let me begin questioning, if I may, then, and just ask really: in terms of those sort of challenges that you've set out and the impact on services, the new ways of working, what more would you say about that? How has the sector responded to the pandemic? What is the most significant part of the impact on existing services? How do you get that balance? Because, obviously, it's an emergency response that's been taken forward, but the sort of day job pre COVID needs to continue as well. How do we get that balance, and what are the new ways of doing these things? Ruth. Yes.

Thank you. I think that one of the most significant changes that I'm sure that we've all experienced, and are continuing to experience, is an increased drive towards digital, and a recognition that one size of digital does not fit all. And, in actual fact, digital does not fit all. So, from the basic premise that not everybody has got access to the kit, not everybody can afford to engage in this way, or, of course, would choose to engage in this way as their preferred means of communication.

One of the most striking conversations that I had, I think either at the end of March or certainly in April, was with one of WCVA's members, Merched y Wawr—the WI women's network working across communities in Wales. And I remember having a conversation with Tegwen, who runs Merched y Wawr, who said, 'Do you know, Ruth, what's really come into fashion in the last few weeks?' And I said, 'What's that then, Tegwen?' She said, 'The phone.' And she said, 'I don’t even mean the mobile phone—landline.' For an awful lot of people, especially in locations where there is no good broadband or no good digital system, or if people haven't got kit, then actually being able to talk on the phone really came back into a new lease of life, I think, especially in those early days of the first UK-wide national lockdown.

But in terms of voluntary sector services driving systems online, charities and voluntary organisations seeking to have outreach through digital means of communication has certainly engendered a new sense of trial and error, a lot of shouting at the computer to say you're still on mute and not remembering to unmute yourself and so on, but recognising that this means of communication might mean that an awful lot more people can talk to each other and that we're engaging with different people that we may not have met before, but it does definitely not suit everybody. And so, making sure that we've got a balance of ways of engaging and making sure that that is available across the diversity of the sector, whether that's through befriending services, providing advice and information, the whole wide gamut of the sector, which I know all the committee members are very familiar with. Thank you, Chair.

14:00

I think, in terms of volunteering, one of the new ways of working that is going to have a positive legacy is the use of digital in not only different methods of recruiting and inducting and supporting and training volunteers, but also different, faster ways of doing that, streamlining processes: induction online; group sessions rather than one-to-one interviews; Disclosure and Barring Service checks being done online; recruitment being done, sometimes, by third parties like county voluntary councils on behalf of other organisations; and streamlining across sectors, which improves efficiency and so on there.

A lot of time and energy has been invested, I think, in supporting volunteers to enable them to engage digitally, with huge input—significant input—from people like Digital Communities Wales. Age Cymru also offer a kind of support service to individuals who are struggling. In some cases, I think that has really increased digital capacity, although I admit, as Ruth said, it doesn't work all around, particularly when you're talking of services to clients. And I think another lesson in terms of ways of working that I'm hearing is that people are thinking in terms of 'both/and' going forward—that some of the digital ways of working, virtual support, virtual meetings will continue, but that the range of options of communicating, both with volunteers and with those who benefit from services, has just increased to the good.

Thank you. Just to agree with what Ruth and Fiona have said and just to emphasise that organisations moving to remote working doesn't necessarily mean 'only digital' and, actually, that strength of being creative is with all the different channels of communication available to us. I've seen some amazing community groups doing education projects and dropping off letters to children on their daily walks, and then they would write letters back and do science projects and do it that way. So, it is remote, but it doesn't have to be via a device, and actually ways of connecting with our stakeholders and within our communities, we can be really clever with it, with really good results.

Okay, could I just ask you on existing services? Have they held up, as it were, or has there been a real impact on existing services because of the need to deal with the emergencies of the pandemic? Fiona.

Yes. In many services where volunteers are involved, the standard response was just to pause everything, and so it was a question of stopping, reconsidering, reviewing, risk-assessing, repurposing sometimes, and then reintroducing. So, that takes time, obviously, in thinking about priorities and the safety of what it is you want to deliver, but it also, in the case of volunteers, means thinking about, often, a completely different demographic, because many of the volunteers have their own concerns about their own health. They may not want to be involved digitally, even if that is an option. So, many organisations experienced volunteers standing down, and therefore, that comes into the mix of rethinking what you do with what you've got, or whether you're going to recruit and then induct and train new volunteers to do the new work. So, within both statutory and voluntary organisations, a huge amount of that early period was spent in just having to kind of take stock quickly, identify priorities and look at who is available. In many cases, staff were doing what, previously, volunteers had done, because the staff wanted to protect volunteers and keep them safe and at home and so on.

Perhaps the other thing to mention would be the impact on voluntary organisations in the care that they take of their volunteers. So, the emphasis for many organisations was on ringing around to their volunteers and finding means for them to chat online with one another, with their own well-being and need to reduce isolation in mind. So, a lot of rethinking and a lot of the non-essential work paused.

14:05

I see. Has that sort of restarted now, then, Fiona, in the way that we've seen in other sectors like the NHS, where they've been able to get non-COVID services coming back into play a lot more?

Yes. I mean, from within a month or two, we were getting enquiries from people saying, 'We've got volunteers who want to do some gardening for people. You know, it's not essential, essential, but how do we do that? When can we do that?' So, it's come into the thinking and the discussion and some of the guidance that we've been writing quite early on, and it's all subject to the national guidelines, obviously, and legislation.

But I think it's been for many people about finding a pathway back, but we've been trying to encourage people not to be thinking about just getting back to what we did before; it's about finding a pathway forward, I should say, really, rather than a pathway back, thinking on a step-by-step approach as to what is realistic and what is possible, risk assessing as you go and thinking outside the box a little bit more rather than just a question of how do we return to what we were doing before. And still, that isn't really the question to be asking. It's about what we are trying to do and how we move forward safely to achieve what we're trying to do. So, more of it's restarting, bit by bit.

Thank you very much indeed, Chair. I'd just like to pick up on one point as regards what will things be like; are things getting back to normal a bit? I appreciate that there may be a question on that a little bit later on as well, but I would just like to note that many WCVA members, who are national household name charities—and I know you'll be having some evidence from British Red Cross later on this afternoon—but certainly, many of those big organisations with corporate headquarters outside of Wales have been going through restructuring processes. And unfortunately, it appears that for some charities and for some of the changes that they're having to make, the actual numbers of people they might employ and the activities that they're involved with here in Wales are likely to be reduced.

That is going to have, I think, an impact on us not only in relation to our ability to input to policy discussions and working on, hopefully, the co-produced developments of current and future policy with people in decision-making roles such as yourselves, but also will have an impact on practice on the ground in terms of any regional or local activities that some of those charities might be involved with. Thank you very much indeed, Chair.

Thank for that, Ruth. Delyth, you wanted to come in on this point.

Just on this point, yes. Thank you, Chair. Hi, Ruth. That's a really worrying development that you were just talking about. To what extent do you think that that shift away from resources, particularly human resources—and I don't mean HR, I mean people—being in Wales and focusing on Welsh policy—[Inaudible.]—to what extent do you think that that is going to be exacerbated as an issue by this ongoing crisis? Or was that something that was already in train? Do you think it's something that would've been happening anyway, regretfully, or do you think it's being exacerbated now?

I think it's definitely been exacerbated as a result of the COVID pandemic. I didn't have any indication on a standard, significant level across the sector before the spring of this year that that was work in progress. I think it's been exacerbated because of the result of fundraising drying up, increased pressures on the sector, and, of course, planning ahead, looking at increased austerity, potentially. I think that a lot of organisations are considering their structures and considering where they are best placed to expend their charitable resources.

14:10

Thank you. I just wanted to add a comment to that, which is that we're really, really tired at this stage. I know we all are; it's been difficult for everybody in lots of different ways. But third sector organisations have been firefighting and trying to deal with the day-to-day while trying to figure out, 'When do we bring back what we normally do?', and moving the people who've been redeployed back to other roles and trying to be flexible and responding to need is just excruciating. And going into winter, into the second wave, and Brexit and everything, the weight of uncertainty and the stress is just taking a huge toll on well-being and mental health across the sector. I've been applying for grants and support and things like that, and some systems are really stressful. Something to bear in mind is that if we're looking to provide support to colleagues or to the sector, we need to make it in a way that doesn't create a tonne more work and stress. Give us security, give us ways of being flexible.

Something else I've seen is there are funds being allocated now that have to be used by the end of March. I was talking to an organisation this morning—suddenly, they've got to find how to spend £57,000. They're quite a small charity, but they don't know if they'll have money April onwards, and that just doesn't help planning and feeling insecure and being able to endure and do what we need to do on an ongoing basis.

Okay, Noreen. Okay, thanks very much for that. And we'll move on, then, to Mark Isherwood.

Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Although the term 'co-production' is now commonly used, it's often used interchangeably with other terms like 'consultation' or 'co-operation'. So, I'd be grateful, starting with Noreen, if you could just, for the record, give a definition of what 'co-production' actually means in the context that we are discussing it, and, then, what lessons are being learned from how the public, private and voluntary sectors, with communities, have worked together during the pandemic and the emergency response to it and how we might improve co-production going forward.

Thank you. Thank you, Mark. That's a meaty question. So, first of all, co-production is, in a nutshell, the partnership working and the sharing of power and responsibility; the shared decision making between people who provide services and people who are accessing those services—so, that equity and that partnership between professionals and citizens, essentially. We've seen, in the run-up to COVID and the lockdown, that co-production has been making its way across the public, statutory service and third sector—so, the statutory sector and third sector. Adoption is at variable levels of progress. So, some organisations are doing really good co-production with their service users, their citizens, shaping services to support people and leveraging the resources in the best way possible, as well as including leveraging the resources of the communities and people's own networks. What we've observed is that the people who are already co-producing well with their communities, with their service users, carried on doing so during the crisis. It was a mindset that they were already in and their instinct was to ask the people, 'What do you need? How can we best support you? How do we figure this out together?' The organisations that weren't so up to speed did not have a chance. It was just not the time and place for them to do it, so they kept on with the pattern of, 'Well, let's do two', or, 'Let's do four and let's make decisions centrally and roll them out'. Sometimes, the crisis has been an excuse to actually bring the power back to the centre and go, 'Okay, well, it's an emergency, so we have to have act fast and so we'll just have to make decisions on behalf of everyone else'. Now, I'm not saying co-production needs to happen all the time for everything with everyone, but, actually, what I mentioned earlier in terms of maturity of understanding co-production and when it's really relevant and appropriate and when it's not, and when we should just make decisions and roll them out, that's not quite well established or as well as I would like it to be across sectors and across organisations.

So, in a nutshell, the ones who were doing co-production carried on doing it effectively and really supported people well; the ones who didn't, didn't have a chance to. It was just not the right time to be trying to learn a new mindset and change an organisational culture in the midst of a pandemic. But, actually, that's something that we need organisations to do.

What I said earlier in terms of trying to plan for the long term, and build our learning and build our longer term response is that we need to learn to do co-production and citizen involvement well, because we're only going to be under more pressure increasingly. If we involve our citizens, our service users, we can do better with not as much resource, and, actually, that will benefit people—people's well-being, people's resilience, using the resources in communities and enable organisations to be more sustainable as well. Thank you.

14:15

Thank you very much indeed, Chair. Just briefly, to endorse the points that Noreen's made, Mark, I'd just make a recognition, which I know you're familiar with, in relation to the unique third sector scheme that we have in Wales and the unique third sector infrastructure that we have in the form of county voluntary councils and volunteer centres across every local authority in Wales. Again, just referencing back to conversations with partners over the last few months, locally sourced ideas, local solutions to local problems were often the quickest and most effective, especially in those very early few weeks of March and April earlier on this year.

A very interesting phrase that I heard on a couple of occasions linked to a couple of different areas of work that the voluntary sector were keen, willing and able to be involved with but were being discussed and approached through a variety of different doors, and a phrase that has stuck with me is that, 'A local solution might often be best. If a national solution is required, then let's look at it as a national support solution.' Let's, for goodness' sake, not look at a national smothering blanket, because nobody wants anybody to be smothered. People want people to be supported, and that co-produced, local connection, whether that's through the unique infrastructure or through new, informal mutual aid groups and activities in local neighbourhoods, there's space for all of it. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Ruth. Is that okay, Mark? You're muted at the moment, Mark.

Both of you referred to some good practice, and I know some of my local CVCs are fully switched on to the agenda. Some face greater resistance than others locally, but I wonder, rather than highlighting bad practice, whether you can highlight some of the good practice or some models, as Noreen referred to, where this was already established and people have continued to work in that way, as something, perhaps, we can look to as we consider how we might promote this in the future.

Yes, certainly. In the response that we've submitted to the committee, there are several examples listed there, and we do have others that we'd be happy to share with officials or committee members after today. One that springs to mind that's in the response paper is in relation to the activities in Gwynedd, and particular engagement with, I think, over 600 volunteers in a very short period of time to extend help through housing associations providing support through foodbanks and also other befriending schemes. I'm also aware of other activity of other intermediary bodies, by having very effective partnerships with GP clusters and their health boards, and I'm sure that Fiona and Noreen would have others. But we have some, and are happy to share others. Thank you.

Okay, we haven't got a lot of time, so perhaps we could have that sharing, as you suggested, Ruth, in terms of some additional information to committee following today. Thanks for that. Huw.

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon, everybody. Look, what I want to particularly focus on is the issue of volunteering and also community response—community self-help, community self-organisation in response to it. But rather than, if you like—because we've all seen it first hand—focus on the good examples and so on, I want to turn this on its head just for a moment and ask all of you whether we have got any grip on measuring in any way beyond the anecdotal the additionality that has come at different phases of the response to the pandemic from new volunteers, when, as you said, at some point there was actually a bit of a lockdown of some groups because of vulnerability of volunteers as well, but new volunteers have come forward and have been sustained, and community health organisations have come forward and are still there, and can be part of a future. Is there any way of—? Have we done anything on analysing this beyond the anecdotal? Ruth is nodding furiously, so let me come to Ruth.

14:20

Thanks very much indeed, Chair. Thank you, Huw. Yes, it's just three quick examples and we can follow up after today. So, in terms of new volunteers, the latest information that's been shared by county voluntary councils and volunteer centres is that 40 per cent are likely to consider wanting to stay involved in being volunteers after their initial engagement so far. I'm sure, again, Fiona may well have some extra information, or different information, in that space. In terms of measuring impact, the sector, especially in north Wales, through the CVC in Gwynedd, Mantell Gwynedd, have got really big connectivity and learning around measuring social value and social return on investment. I recommend the Social Value Cymru website and resource to committee members if you're not familiar with it, and there is in-depth work going on there at the moment to measure the impact specifically of both activity and funding that has gone in over the last seven or eight months.

There was one other point—yes, it was in relation to the new groups that you mentioned. I think I'm right in quoting that over a third—it might be as high as two thirds, but certainly over a third—of organisations or new groups that have established over the last six to eight months have indicated that they will continue doing what they're doing, but also look to potentially constitute in a more formal manner, which obviously is not for everybody, and it doesn't need to be for everybody, but certain numbers have approached their county voluntary councils for advice on the most effective way to constitute, if that's the route that they wanted to take.

Ruth, that's brilliant. Chair, rather than bounce around everybody on this, could I just augment that question if somebody wants to come in? That's really helpful, Ruth. Could I take us even further and ask, recognising that everybody's stretched, everybody's on their knees, but, because of that or any other reason, are we likely to miss any opportunity to capture the potential gains we could have because of the goodwill, the crisis response? Are we likely to miss capturing any of those potential gains? Either, Ruth, or any of your other colleagues—.

It's a really important question, Huw. Like you're saying, I think this is—[Inaudible.]—as positive as I'd like to say. It's very, very difficult to really have the answer to that really important question. Lots of people are going after the funding to do research on this, and I think it is important to say we have just, in the last week or so, heard of a positive funding bid UK wide, focusing on volunteering and COVID. The WVCA is a part of it—Economic and Social Research Council funded, I think it is. So, that will involve trying to gather all of the information that we have. Basically, we have the Volunteering Wales website, and we can see very clearly both numbers and trends on that. Trends in a way are more reliable, useful information than the numbers, but, number wise, we know that it's about 18,000 people who have signed up to volunteer since March. The vast majority of that was in the first few weeks. That is only a very small part of the picture, because all the informal end, mutual aid, would operate completely differently. I think the town and community—you know, One Voice Wales—councils have a certain amount of information; they've got out to members and have got some data. I have some data from them about the distribution and numbers of volunteers involved in their networks. At the very formal end, lots of people approach their national health, local health body without going through Volunteering Wales, and actually we have very little information about what volunteering was going on within the NHS, apart from anecdotal. I think it's quite remarkable that we weren't able to answer questions from Ministers like, 'Do you need more volunteers in the health service?' It was really difficult to get answers to that. So, that's the long and short of it, really. The data is a difficult nut to crack, and I actually think probably research is the way, otherwise you end up formalising the informal, don't you, and getting people to report and monitor at that end of the scale? But it would be useful to unpack some of this. 

14:25

Chair, the reason I asked that is because whilst we all know the sort of feel and colour of what's going on and perhaps have had some involvement in it, unless you have some really detailed analysis, granular analysis, it's hard to plot the way forward. And I guess that would be my final question: okay, from what we know and from the work that we do know, and you and Ruth have touched on it, then what is the best way now to go forward to retain and capture that community help, that volunteerism that we've had? How do we keep it? How do we keep that? People are going back to work, people have got other priorities, youngsters will be heading back to university, blah, blah, blah, and so on. So, how do we do it?

Again, a very live issue. I think the first thing to say is that county voluntary councils are very aware of this and flag it up. So, I think they will be looking at new ways; they haven't always considered it within their brief to be working with the informal end of volunteering, but I think the game has changed and they do. So, how they might support without smothering and contribute resourcing or advice where needed and so on is very much on the agenda.

I'm involved in conversations at a UK level, and we're having some fascinating conversations about the nature of the spectrum of volunteering and what is legitimate and appropriate from a kind of proportionate risk and safeguarding point of view at different levels along the spectrum. I feel really committed to this work because I think, without some of those conversations about what good practice means, if you like, when you're talking about an informal group or, at the other end or extreme, high-risk formal—without that conversation, you end up with a bit of a divide between people who, 'Do things properly', and people who think, 'Local people—far too risky.' And some of the initiatives that have developed have raised concerns about the degree of awareness or precaution about safeguarding. Vulnerable people are involved, there are financial as well as other kinds of risks that people are exposed to. So, I think that is a conversation that I'm keen to pursue, and that's then about creating more common understanding and about creating legitimacy, if you like, for different kinds of activity within norms or parameters, if you like. So, I would hope it would be framed more in the context of creating space for people to do their own thing, rather than about piling on requirements, if you see what I mean. If things are within a certain understanding, then that's okay, keep off; you can trust that they're doing what they do in their own way.

Okay, thanks very much to you, Fiona. Let's—. Noreen. Okay. Quickly, if you could. 

Thank you. Just very briefly, just thinking about your question, Huw, about how we keep that energy for volunteering when people go back to work or back to uni, let's make the difference between how we keep the overall energy and not the granularity of it, because some people might drop off the volunteering radar because they've gone back to work or uni, but that's okay because others can pick it up. And I think, on what Fiona just said about creating the space for people to do their thing, if we can enable those conversations, that relationship building between the front line and citizens, then actually we're creating the infrastructure for those conversations in those spaces to happen and for that volunteering energy to keep being retained in—there's no one size fits all, but in the way that's right for everyone. 

Okay, thank you, Noreen. Finally for this session, Delyth. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. That last point that Huw was picking up on and that you were all answering, that need to retain and to grow the resilience of the sector, I wanted to ask quickly about that first, please—the point that I think Fiona made, that the vast majority of volunteers were actually signing up in the first few weeks of the initial lockdown. And presumably, because it was unprecedented, that that meant that people felt that there was that need. Do you think that there's more support that could be given to the sector, whether from the Government or from elsewhere, so that it isn't just about maintaining the energy of people who are still volunteering, but getting the sense that that crisis situation, although it's not the new headline—the crisis is very much ongoing?

14:30

I'm not sure that I would frame it in terms of ongoing crisis, but I do feel, Delyth, that we need to put more energy into creating channels for quick, informal, task-based opportunities for people to get involved. I'm a believer in the contribution of the more formal volunteering as well. One way of building resilience is to build up that kind of pool resource of people who know what they're doing, who know the culture and context of where you want them to be influential and involved. But I think many organisations could perhaps have a wider offer, if you like, that you don't just consider volunteering as meaning one kind of thing, but there are kind of informal opportunities, as well as the more dedicated opportunities that might be of interest if you want a career, or if you have life skills that you want to contribute back into a particular field. So, I think some more national thinking around that would be helpful. 

Thank you very much indeed. There had to be one time, didn't there? Just picking up on Delyth's question, and tying together, really, the different doors in which Fiona, Noreen and I have sort of come from to this afternoon's session, really, that by encouraging an ongoing changing of behaviours and culture to share power better locally, regionally and nationally will, I think, build that greater resilience. And we've got examples in terms of national household-name charities that you'll be meeting, no doubt, during the course of this inquiry, to possibly small mutual aid organisations, or certainly evidence from them. And, then, the infrastructure that we've namechecked already, and the importance of hard-wiring, is again one of the other phrases that we've heard over recent weeks, which we feel is incredibly helpful—that where there are existing relationships, be they with Welsh Government, be they with local authorities, be they with health boards, be they with town and community councils, and the voluntary sector, whether that's national household-name charities, or small local groups—. Where that relationship needs to be hard-wired, then let's, for goodness sake, grab hold of it, hard-wire it where appropriate.

But one size still doesn't fit all. And so, if people who are in decision-making roles are able to truly trust colleagues in their communities—people who are local activists, people who are the leaders of social enterprises, the people who are the good neighbours and the co-ordinators on their patch—then that's how we conduct most of our lives, so there's no reason why we can't grab hold of that as one of the positive outcomes in relation to the difficult and challenging experience that we're still all going through. 

Thank you. I agree with everything Fiona and Ruth said. And just to add an extra layer to that, in response to your question, Delyth, this may or may not be an ongoing crisis, so it might be more or less long term, but when we're not dealing with that, we're still going to have to deal with the climate change issue and food safety, and a load of other big national and social problems. And so, actually, hard-wiring these relationships and these ways of working together better and building our resilience, both in communities and in organisations, means that, together, we can bring better responses to these and create local solutions to not just local problems, but also the national problems. 

Thank you so much. I'm very aware of time, Chair, so I'll just ask one final question if I have time—

—which is on the—. Thank you all so much, that was really important. That was fascinating, thank you, and really important. But in terms of the financial support that's been given by the Welsh and UK Governments to the sector, do you think that that support has met need to date, and are you confident about what is being talked about for the future? I know, Noreen, you've already said that a lot of the funding is very time-limited. Are there any other concerns that you have that you'd like us to consider?

14:35

Thank you very much indeed, Chair. Thanks for the question, Delyth. So, briefly, the support from Welsh Government and the support from UK Government has been incredibly useful. It is gratefully acknowledged and appreciated and has been put to good use, and greater impact, stories, evidence and data will be available, which links back to Huw's question a few moments ago. Has it been enough? No. Would we like more? Yes. Can we put it to good use? Yes, and we can prove it.

And one of the points that I made in the opening comments was as regards the challenge—both an opportunity and a challenge—that if one is presented with an opportunity to spend money, as Noreen said, but by 31 March. You know we have got some of the most robust accounting and audit techniques to be able to demonstrate the use of funds and the ring-fencing of funds. We are completely values driven, and there is no way that we would want to see one penny of public funds, or of trust and foundation money, or of money raised through public fundraising misspent. And so, if there are any opportunities whatsoever to have funds in this financial year, then the opportunity to not have to spend every single last penny of it, but to account and track forward, and if not spent appropriately then to have courses of redress, obviously, to be completely open and transparent in that space—that would just be so incredibly useful. And if that was one lesson that could then be hard-wired into the third sector scheme, and especially the third sector—the funding code of practice—Chair, it would be very helpful for us to be able to give maybe a couple of lines to the committee inquiry, especially in relation to that. Because I think that that would be one really, really valuable lesson that we might be able to hold on to from this period of challenging time. Thank you.

Okay, Ruth, thank you—that's very useful. Okay, that's great. Thank you, all three of you, very much for giving evidence to committee today. As is the usual practice, you will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you, all.

Committee will break very briefly, then, until 2.45 p.m.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:37 ac 14:45.

The meeting adjourned between 14:37 and 14:45.

14:45
3. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith ar y Sector Gwirfoddol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 2
3. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact on the Voluntary Sector: Evidence Session 2

Okay. Welcome back, everyone, to item 3 on our committee agenda today, and our second evidence session with regard to our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact on the voluntary sector. I'm very pleased to welcome Kate Griffiths, director for Wales for the British Red Cross, and Jas Bains, chief executive of Hafod. Welcome, both. I'd like to invite you both to make a brief, two and a half minute—if you could, please—opening statement, starting with Kate. 

Thank you, Chair. I'll just check that everyone can hear me.  

Okay, thank you. If I may, Chair, I'd like to start with just some key reflections, really. The first of which just related to the level of activity delivered across the sector during the pandemic which, despite the significant challenges we have seen, has been immense and has really demonstrated the responsiveness and flexibility within the sector.

We've also extended our communications structures so that across the sector we are better connected and we have a shared understanding of who is doing what, the risks and the challenges that we are all facing as individual organisations, and it also provides a better opportunity for collaboration and partnership. I've been speaking with colleagues at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action—WCVA—about how we build on this to develop a third sector partnership structure for future emergencies in Wales, and I'd like to see support for such a structure that maximises both those local and national capabilities from the voluntary and community sector. 

You'll probably know that loneliness and isolation has been a long-standing concern, and our research now confirms what we've been seeing on the ground throughout the pandemic period—that loneliness has been exacerbated over this very difficult year, and that's going to present challenges across the third sector, as well as health and social care. As we focus our efforts on supporting those who are most impacted by this crisis, we need to see sustained action to tackle loneliness through the next phases of the response—so, during recovery and in the aftermath. 

I'd welcome the development of guidance and its promotion to help Government departments, local statutory stakeholders and local resilience forums to fully meet the needs of their communities by advising full collaboration with the voluntary and community sector, and to futureproof this with a legislative framework that sets out a clearer role for our sector in emergencies—so, through the regulation and guidance, perhaps, of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. 

I've already mentioned the need for sustained action to tackle loneliness, but alongside that, and critically, we need to see investment in more sustainable and long-term funding packages, which would provide both security for organisations, enabling us to retain staff and volunteers, but also would ensure support services and community assets are available during the emergency and beyond. 

Hello. First of all, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee today, John, and welcome to the fellow panel members and to Kate. So, Hafod's history is we are 53 years as an organisation. We are one of 35 registered housing associations across Wales. Some particulars about the organisation: we have 4,500 general needs properties scattered across nine local authorities; we provide support services to another 1,400 people living in supported accommodation; and we have 10 registered care homes, which makes us the largest not-for-profit provider of registered care homes across all of Wales. We're a substantial organisation in that we have a £60 million plus turnover, a strong balance sheet and we employ over 1,400 people across south Wales.  

Our starting point, as far as the response to the pandemic, was very much framed on nine principles. So, we've taken a programme management approach. Our priority was the safeguarding of the welfare of our customers. Following the programme management approach, we identified that personal protective equipment, the well-being of customers and colleagues, how we delivered our services, how we communicated, ensuring that we were legally and statutorily compliant, how we engaged with our customers and wider families, the deployment of our capital and our labour and the distribution of resources, making sure the organisation remained financially strong and robust during this period, and it provided us an opportunity to explore new ways of working, with much of our head office staff working from home.

We appreciate that we are navigating very uncertain times, so this period also has given us an opportunity to reset our strategy, look at the way that we deploy our capital, and review capabilities within the communities that we serve. So, as of today, we are entering what we have identified as phase 2 of the pandemic. So, our first six months of reflections, which no doubt we will go on to in the course of the conversation, are very much framed on what we think we've done successfully in that first six months.

14:50

Okay, Jas, that's great. As you say, we'll be coming on to a number of matters in due course. If I may start, then, with the first questions, in terms of the challenges and the impact on your services and your funding, you've set out some of the headlines, as it were. What would you like to tell committee, really, in just a little bit more detail, about the challenges and the impact on services and some of the funding issues? Who would like to begin? Kate.

Thank you. I suppose, organisationally, as a large organisation, the British Red Cross has been relatively fortunate, if I could use the term, in that, with our reserves and our ability to fundraise, we’ve seen an awful lot of support. We've been overwhelmed with support for our coronavirus appeal. That has enabled us to set up a telephone support line to deliver food, medicine, wheelchairs and get people home from hospital. So, through the pandemic we've had over 300,000 interactions where some kind of help has reached people in need, which has been, obviously, fantastic for us to be able to be in that position.

Our concern on a broader basis, really, is for those organisations that are smaller and that will not have the infrastructure that we do, and I think that that’s where we look for support, really, from the committee—to be able to make funding more secure and more robust for those organisations who will really be needing it. And, obviously, as we see the winter coming, the voluntary sector will be needed more than ever, I anticipate, and we see ourselves as the mortar between the bricks, plugging the gaps between statutory services and communities in need, and in order to be able to do that and to take those localised approaches, which are becoming increasingly important, we need to be able to sustain our community assets.

So, our income is drawn primarily from the following sources: rent, service charges, support income and care fees. So, in the first six months our income for care has been down by just over £1 million. But, fortunately, we've been able to recoup most of that because of Welsh Government's social care subsidy, and we found that extremely helpful.

Over and above that, we have funded, because we wanted to oversupply and ration, our own PPE, and that's because you never know what you might need in an emergency. As a relatively financially robust organisation, we've been able to absorb such losses relatively easily. However, beyond March, where there is a current guarantee for Government subsidy, I think that raises some fundamental questions, particularly in light of the fact that we live in a public sector where the forecasts are pretty bleak, whether you're talking about Welsh or UK Governments.

So, the other main strand to our income is rents. We have in place a five-year settlement agreement with Welsh Government to increase rents by CPI plus 1 per cent. Now, I personally think that this might be difficult to sustain given the general parlous state of public finances. So, I think that while, short term, we will be okay, I think, more medium and long term, there are fundamental questions that probably will need to be raised.

And just finally, on income, I want to comment on income from our customer perspective, not just the impact on the organisation, because I think we're resilient and strong enough to sustain. What we're seeing is a very, very markedly different picture. As a whole, our customer base is noticeably getting poorer and less healthy, and I think that, from Welsh Government's point of view, there will be a downward pressure on rents because we are living in a deflationary environment.

14:55

Okay, Jas, thank you very much. Okay, we'll move on to Mark.

Good afternoon, everybody. I know the British Red Cross for many years before the pandemic was delivering projects in north Wales and elsewhere focused on loneliness and isolation, taking place-based approaches, which you, I think, referred to, and I know, from a recent meeting with Jas's organisation, you were saying you were now providers of housing, care and support, and you were delivering a person-centred approach, focusing on community and citizens' strengths to help people to take ownership to deliver their personal and collective ambitions. So, it leads on, I suppose, to references to co-production in our first session. How have your organisations worked with partners in the voluntary, public and private sectors and community networks during the emergency response and how effective has that been? What lessons have you learned about how more sustainable support could be provided for the early intervention and prevention work that each of you provide not only to improve lives and empower people, but also to release pressure on the public purse?

Okay, who would like to begin? Jas. You need to unmute, Jas.

Thank you for the question, Mark, and good to see you again. Our position on our response has been that, two years ago, which is well before COVID, we redesigned our front-line service model. We moved to a housing officer presence where properties were being managed by one housing officer to the scale of about 500 per estate to a model now where we have 30 neighbourhood coaches who are effectively housing officers based in a much, much smaller locality. So, we operate on a very micro-neighbourhood basis. Now, during those two years, we have successfully managed to build partnerships in collaboration with the community and voluntary sector. We work very much hand in glove, whether these are organisations specialising in financial distress advice and indebtedness or it's some other form of welfare support in extension of the state. So, I'd like to think, for the most part, not in all thirty, that we have a number of exemplars across our localities that have definitely strengthened those partnerships. What is a statement of the obvious is that we have noticed as well the impact that the last few years of austerity and public sector cuts have had and we've seen the disappearance of a number of friendly organisations who have been doing some very, very worthy work that is no longer funded. 

I think the other thing to say is that there's been a considerable strengthening with public health and primary care agencies, whether they're GP practices or others, and I think that's been important in terms of our sustained support for our local residents and our customers, and I think that what we're trying to craft for Hafod is the local architecture where there is an underpinning relationship between statutory and non-statutory. Can we do more? Absolutely, and I think we will do more in the course of time as our presence strengthens in those localities, we have the confidence and trust of those agencies to work with us, so that we can work across a number of public sector agendas, because we very much see ourselves—I think I might have mentioned this to you before—as a sort of organisation that is an extension of the welfare state, and when you have crises, we all muck in together.

15:00

Thank you. I suppose similar to what Jas was just describing in terms of experience in partnership working, particularly during the pandemic period, we've worked alongside Welsh Government and St John Ambulance in Wales to provide support for the prescription delivery service. That was for patients who were shielding during the first lockdown, so it was over a six-month period and, as part of that, we delivered 4,100 prescriptions and supported 33 pharmacies across Wales, so we've got some really good strengthened relationships in terms of partnership there.

We've also got a hardship fund, which we've been promoting since the beginning of the pandemic, and that hardship fund has supported—almost £63,000 distributed to households across Wales. It's 167 households in total, and our mechanism for referral for that hardship fund is via partners. So, we will partner with organisations and they will refer individuals to us. We've also got examples of partnership working, supporting organisations with their response to the pandemic. So, for example, food banks in north Wales and in Newport, and we've also had a partnership with Oasis Cardiff to prepare and deliver food parcels to refugees and asylum seekers.

So, partnership is inherent in what we do and how we work. I suppose, from my perspective, there's an opportunity to really develop how we work in partnership in emergency situations, so, as I mentioned previously, being able to strengthen the relationship and have an improved partnership structure around emergencies within Wales would enable us to be more cohesive. There are some examples of that happening elsewhere across the UK, for example, the voluntary and community sector emergencies partnership, which is a partnership in England funded by the Department for Communities. That enables the sector to respond to our net need, to shape and influence response and to scale up, and it allows organisations to be able to flex and support each other. So, that really is an approach to partnership that I'm really keen to seek support for in the future.

The other element for us, I suppose, is around community resilience, and obviously resilience can't be achieved by a single organisation or with a short-term perspective, and it can't have a siloed approach. So, that again requires developed and enhanced partnership approaches. It's obviously multisectoral as well, because it will need to include preparedness, response and recovery, so that's multiple areas of engagement there.

In terms of the involvement of the voluntary and community sector, as I've said previously, I would like to see that strengthened. It's not currently legally binding in response to emergencies and local knowledge about needs, vulnerabilities and sensitivities is not always taken into account, so I would like to see some strengthening in that respect.

Thank you, Kate. Mark, did you want to come back on any points, or are you content with those responses? You're quite happy, okay. And Huw.

Thank you, Chair. You've touched on, in the last question from my colleague Mark, your engagement with wider partners within the voluntary sector organisations and so on. Can you touch on the extent to which you've both engaged with volunteers as part of the community response to the pandemic, and how you see that this can be maintained post COVID to build back resilience? So, it's the engagement with volunteers I'm asking about here. I don't know who wants to go first.

Happy to. In response to COVID, we've seen a massive outpouring of community spirit and volunteering, neighbours and communities coming together to step up and respond. So, that's been incredible and great to see as we've been coming through such a difficult and challenging period. And as we enter the winter months and volunteers have returned to work, we need to ensure that the needs of those vulnerable people that we've been supporting are still met, and that communities are able to recover and build resilience to manage future restrictions and emergencies. So, partnership has been vital and we've worked closely with partner organisations to support other voluntary sector organisations, so linking volunteer to volunteer. It goes back, I suppose, to what I was saying earlier in the previous answer around having an improved structure around co-ordination, which would enable us to kind of allow—. Our volunteers, for example, in the Red Cross have been supporting food banks in north Wales, so allowing that cross-working of a volunteer opportunity. I've had several sessions and online Zoom sessions with volunteers from the Red Cross; they're always insightful and they always guide us in terms of new directions of work and the needs of our communities. So, they're going to be really important to sustain those as we go forward, and I see the opportunity of working closer together and sharing our volunteer workforces in a more creative way as part of the solution to responding to that.

15:05

Thanks, Kate. And Jas, does Hafod engage a lot with volunteers as well as other voluntary organisations on the ground—volunteers specifically?

Sorry, can you hear me, Mark? Can you hear me?

Sorry, Huw. I wasn't sure whether I—. They normally fit—. Sorry, okay.

So, on a number of levels, Huw; first of all, good to see you again. So, what we've observed down at the grass-roots level on the ground is the role that neighbours have played in our localities. Incredible support, door knocking, where they know that somebody is living alone and is vulnerable; that's been very clear. Neighbours have been terrific in delivering food parcels, either organised by Hafod or other support agencies or people just doing a bit of home cooking and delivering. We've had mutual support where people need some help or just need somebody to talk to; that has been very, very notable. And occasionally, as you can imagine, when tensions just escalate because people feel a bit cooped up in their own properties, dispute resolutions—[Inaudible.]—some of our neighbours have been instrumental in dispute resolutions, so to speak.

As an organisation, we have had over 100 of our non-care-based staff involved in a range of support for people who live in either supported accommodation or care, and between them, they have organised and delivered 400 shifts in care homes and supported accommodation, delivering in excess of 3,000 equivalent volunteer hours. We're incredibly proud of that, because that has been initiated by our workforce. What we'd like to do now is somehow build that into our fabric, and as a company, we are now going to look to increase. We have a volunteering policy that permits people to contribute to local good causes and we are now looking to see whether it is feasible to increase that commitment by twofold in the next—. So, largely informal support, but very pleasing both from a colleague point of view in the organisation, but also very proud of the work of our neighbours in our local communities, Huw.

That's really good. Thank you both for that. Thanks, Chair.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Hi, nice to see you both. We've already been talking a little bit about isolation and the different ways in which both of your organisations will have been encountering people who are suffering the effects of isolation, and in different ways that you've already been talking about, how you and your organisations have been helping people to overcome that. Looking at this in the context of how—. The meeting that we're having right now is a case in point as to how life is very different at the moment from how we'd been used to conducting things before, and there are so many aspects of people's lives that are now made easier for some people. So, for some people, it can help bring people together, help people be able to join in more, even with community work, if it's done online. But as that becomes more and more possible, the gap between the opportunities available for people who can engage digitally and the people who for whatever reason can't, that gap gets bigger and bigger. How concerned are you about that—the gap of digital exclusion and how it gets bigger? Do you think there's any more support that should be made available, again, whether by Government, or are there just things that as a society we need to be doing in order to help the people who are more excluded because of this? Whoever wants to go first.

15:10

Shall I go first?

Okay, thank you. Good to see you again, Delyth. So, if I can just start out by giving a few examples of where we think it's gone well, before I address the deficit, so to speak. So, one of the really pleasing things for us is, just prior to the pandemic, we set up hyperlocal #Connect Facebook, and 2,500 residents, families and friends regularly participate in a series of hyperlocal #Connect Facebook pages that have enabled families who've not been able to visit homes to connect to their loved ones and keep in touch. In the first six months, we had over 25,000 comments posted, and this is a statistical accuracy: 90 per cent of those comments were of a pleasing and constructive nature.

We also, as you know, and certainly Mark and maybe Huw and John if I can just bring it to your attention, we've over the last 12 months been working on a really exciting venture with Amazon and Accenture and the University of Swansea to introduce what we think will shortly be unveiled as the first application for loneliness and isolation. We're really excited about this, because this is a made-in-Wales initiative led by Hafod. We think it's got replication possibilities for across Wales and further afield. This device, we think, will be a really helpful platform so that people can get a range of support in a number of areas with scope to grow.

Addressing your particular question, Delyth, of course it's also a national tragedy in that there are very, very high numbers of people who aren't connected digitally. So, as a landlord, one of the areas that we're currently looking at—and we're working with, it's commercially sensitive, but let's call it an unnamed national mobile phone provider—is, as part of people taking on their tenancy, how could we provide for the first 12 months a free internet accessibility, so that people can have access to WiFi. We're in the relatively early stages of that, but I think that is probably one of the areas that I think we can—. I think, beyond that, digital literacy is a huge issue. I think that's a huge issue. We find that as an organisation. We employ 1,400 people and a recent survey showed something like 35 per cent of our workforce don't feel that they're currently digitally literate. So, I think it's both a workforce issue, it's a community issue, and what we welcome is the learning from others to see how we can strengthen our capacity in that area.

Kate, was there anything that you wanted to add to that?

Thank you. Thank you, Delyth. We know that loneliness has been exacerbated by the crisis for many, and some people are affected more than others, and the social and economic effects of the crisis, I think, will leave a lasting impact. Things like bereavement, social isolation, digital exclusion and unemployment and financial struggles as well; they all trigger loneliness, and often, the loneliest people feel less able to cope and recover from crisis, so this is going to be something that is really a key concern and a key challenge for us. As I've mentioned already, I'm calling for sustained action to tackle loneliness throughout the next phases of the response during recovery and the aftermath. And the way that we do that is really important; it can't just be digital, as much as we're all very familiar now with Zoom. I'm sure that there have been lots of leaps and bounds in terms of improved use of technology, but what we need to be very aware of is digital exclusion and not just the digital exclusion but the isolation of other groups as well.

I think our focus needs to be on social prescribing. We've certainly seen an increase in demand for our social prescribing services across the pandemic period—a significant increase there. And I think that casework and one-to-one type of support with individuals who are really very vulnerable to isolation is going to be very important for the future.

15:15

Thank you, both, for that. My final question—and this has been touched on a little bit already as well—is in terms of the support, financial and otherwise, that your organisations have received from the Welsh Government or from the UK Government. So, again, that could be financial or it could be in terms of guidance or any sort—. Has that met your organisations' needs to date and do you feel confident about the package of support from the two Governments that is being suggested will be available in the coming months? Again, whoever wants to go first.

Shall I start, Jas?

Okay. As I said earlier, as a sizeable organisation, we're in a rather fortunate position in comparison with some others. Commissioners we've found have been very supportive and have worked with us on adapting our service models, so we've been able to sustain our commissioned activity. And we are aware of Welsh Government's funding that's available for the sector, which has been in the region of around £24 million, which is really positive.

In terms of where, perhaps, we could ask for more, it won't surprise you that I would like to see some commitment and ring fencing specifically for tackling loneliness and isolation. I would like to see us making some stronger commitments there.

And I'll go back to my earlier point, really, around the need for long-term and sustainable funding. I think we're all, from an economy perspective, going to find the coming months and years very, very challenging. But ultimately, the third sector is very reliant on piecing together short-term funding to be able to deliver the services and support that we require, and that presents us with a whole host of challenges from retaining staff to developing and evolving services and really allowing them to maximise their potential. So, although we've seen increased support for the sector over the pandemic period, we do need longer and more sustainable funding packages going forward.

Yes, thank you, Chair. Delyth, I think that our experience was that initially there were teething problems. I think it took Welsh Government, the NHS and Public Health Wales probably the first couple of months for things to bed down and come to a suitable arrangement with local authorities. And PPE was a primary example of where we just didn't feel confidence in the system and we've ended up building our own warehouse and we have a stock of over £100,000-worth of equipment in the event of an emergency. I think that situation has improved dramatically and the Welsh Government clearly has got its act together there. I think that is a fair point.

I think the other thing I would say about Government is that we're incredibly grateful—those of us who are care service providers—for the financial subsidy in relation to additional expenditure on PPE, but also where we are experiencing very high levels of low occupancy, because care homes are not places you can regularly place people because of the pandemic. I think, to be fair, the Government has responded very, very quickly.

On the testing, I think, again, the first couple of months it was simply all over the place. It wasn't inspiring any confidence for our care colleagues, and the situation was, as you can imagine, highly frenzied, with high levels of anxiety, but I think that was a national picture. I'm pleased to say I think there's been some quick learning on that.

And then I would also say that the flexibility and freedoms—I mean, there are things that you can do. I think regulators have given us flexibilities and freedoms to do things and perhaps skip a beat or two in order to be pragmatic. Some of the concerns, talking to other providers, is that that might be slipping back to the bad old ways and they're reverting to type, and I just don't think that is a great place to be in and at the moment, because we need our flexibilities and our freedoms.

As far as the UK Government—our dialogue with the UK Government is much more limited. Specifically, we have engaged with the UK Government, because on the loneliness app we were invited recently to deliver to the UK cross-party parliamentary group, which is chaired by Damian Green MP, but beyond that, our exposure to UK Government has been very limited.

What I will say, in conclusion, is that the issue is not only just financial subsidy. I think Government has a huge role to play in supporting and facilitating progress through system reform. I think the way that services are organised and deployed, and greater cross-fertilisation and working across service boundaries, without departmental and regulatory barriers put up—I think if you unlock that capital, that is arguably worth as much as any money that the system will generate.

15:20

Okay, thank you, both. It's interesting you ended on that, Jas, because we're going to come on to some questions with Mark Isherwood now around, post pandemic, how we build back better, as it were. And I know there have been some examples of how local authorities, for example, have effectively cut across some of those bureaucratic systems in terms of working with the voluntary sector, and I'm sure retaining some of those advantages going forward would be part of a future way of doing things better. Mark.

Thank you. You addressed—[Inaudible.]—that might have been raised. What do you think your organisations will look like post COVID-19, and what role do you think your sector and, more broadly, community organisations and networks can play in reconstruction and recovery? Allied to that, how do you feel that national and local governments in Wales need to consider how they grant-fund and commission services to ensure that we are investing public money in the interventions that genuinely intervene and prevent problems happening, improve lives and reduce pressure on public services, where Welsh Government normally asks for evidence of social return, which puts some onus on organisations to produce detailed reports showing what they've achieved for the input provided?

Okay. Who would like to start the response to those points?

I'm happy to go, John.

Okay. Thank you for the really insightful question, Mark. What I would say is that, first of all, as far as the housing association sector—what does it look like? I think the housing association is entering into a period of rapid evolution. I think that future very much looks like organisations that are formally recognised rather than informally understood to be major players in cross-service delivery, whether that's across health, social care, the economy or housing. I think the housing sector, through Community Housing Cymru, our trade body, is looking to make its mark and redefine and recast housing associations in that space. Clearly, we're a broad church in that sense, and some organisations like Hafod are probably closer to that side of the evolution, others are perhaps a little bit more traditional in their outlook, but I definitely sense there is a will and a momentum within the sector to evolve.

So, what do we look like in five years' time? I would like to think that we'd classify probably as part of the public sector, rather than the private sector, because it goes back to my earlier point that I very much see housing associations as pseudo-public sector bodies, and we have a role to play in the extending welfare provision, whether that's as a safety net or a springboard. The nature and definition of housing associations—I think we will become more fluid, more interconnected. We will be seen as conveners of conversations, not necessarily always delivering, and recognised as that intermediary that can bring together the community voluntary sector, the public sector and the private sector.

So, in response to reconstruction and recovery, let me first of all address the point of our role, I think, in the space of strengthening the community voluntary sector. A generalisation, and forgive me, but I think our community voluntary sector in Wales is a little bit fragmented. I think we've got those who are very worthy in the space of traditional social services that probably aren't funded anymore by the state, and those who are more commercially attuned and at the training end of the spectrum. I think the role that large institutions can play, like your Red Crosses and your Hafods, is where it comes to structural reform. I'm a firm believer in the hub-and-spoke model. I'm a very keen follower of what the—[Inaudible.]—model did in the United States of America, and that is becoming a host so that organisations, as they grow, have a safety net, have a space in which to try and flourish, without the anxieties and the headaches of bureaucracy, regulations, so the financial challenges, and very much help play our role then in helping those organisations grow. What we do absolutely as a condition is—[Inaudible.]—so that organisations can come into those structural arrangements and then have the option, within three or five years to float off, really, so that they have an incubation process under the largesse of organisations of our sort of size and substance.

I think your final point was around our role in terms of helping to use public resources better and more effectively. I think that issues on the agenda for the housing association sector are no different to the 22 local authorities and the debate, 'Is that too many?' Seven health boards for Wales—is that too many? Thirty-five housing associations in Wales—let me say, I think that's too many. So, I think some rationalisation of the sector in the same way that England have done would bring healthy economies of scale and better efficiency.

I would then also, for Welsh Government—I would like Welsh Government not to make the mistakes of itself and UK Governments of the past, and recognise that we can't put all of our money and our energy at the extreme end. We need to put more money into the preventative end of things, and so I'd like to see a significant redistribution of resources upstream and interventions early on. Thank you very much.

15:25

Thank you. Some very difficult questions that you've asked there, Mark. The biggest challenge, I think, our sector will face is probably yet to come, and that's concerning, given the year that we've had so far already. For us, it's about ensuring that those services and community assets are sustained during and after the pandemic period. Organisationally, our focus is on prioritising those who are most vulnerable, so although emergencies affect everyone, the impacts and the length of recovery aren't equally felt. So, vulnerability isn't something that is static, and it can change and heighten for individuals and groups through the course of that emergency cycle. So, vulnerability needs to be regularly assessed and focused, from our organisation, on the most vulnerable in terms of recovery. I think we can expect that we will not see the return of some of the charities and organisations who won't be able to continue beyond the pandemic, and I agree with Jas that a larger organisation can play a role in terms of hosting and enabling local organisations specifically from a developing resilience perspective within their communities, and I agree also on Jas's point around prevention.

I do think that, historically, funding structures have been a bit upside down and haven't been really targeted at prevention, and I think we needed to take that seriously. There's been an awful lot of talk about prevention for what feels like a long time, and I think we really need to use this as an opportunity to flip up these structures on their head and really get to the heart of tackling some of the prevention issues that we've not yet been able to overcome.

15:30

Thanks very much, Kate. Okay, Mark? Okay. Okay, well, thank you both very much. Thank you, Kate. Thank you, Jas. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence for this session to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. But diolch yn fawr for giving evidence to the committee today. Thank you.

Okay, committee, we'll break briefly now, then, until 3.45 p.m. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:32 ac 15:45.

The meeting adjourned between 15:32 and 15:45.

15:45
4. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith ar y Sector Gwirfoddol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 3
4. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact on the Voluntary Sector: Evidence Session 3

Okay, welcome back, everyone, to committee today. Item 4 on our agenda is our third evidence session with regard to the impact of COVID-19 on the voluntary sector in Wales, and I'm very pleased to welcome Carol Mack, chair of the Wales Funders Forum, Rebecca Watkins, foundation director of the Moondance Foundation, Richard Williams, chief executive of Community Foundation Wales, and John Rose, Wales director of the National Lottery Community Fund. Welcome to you all and thanks for coming to committee to give evidence today, in virtual form albeit. Could you all begin by giving us just a two-and-a-half-minute introduction, a short opening statement, in terms of these matters? Perhaps we could begin with the Wales Funders Forum and Carol.

Prynhawn da. Good afternoon. My name is Carol Mack, and I chair the Wales Funders Forum. The forum brings together private, public and voluntary sector funders who are based in or who have an interest in Wales. The aim of the Wales Funders Forum is to strengthen and support funders, to promote effective funding practice, and provide opportunities for funders to learn about current and emerging issues in Wales.

I should say that it's an informal network and it operates on a voluntary basis. So, in my day job, I am the chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations. That's a UK-wide organisation, and ACF's mission is to support foundations to be ambitious and effective in the way that they use their resources for social good. The secretariat for the forum is provided by Gareth Hughes, one of John's team at the National Lottery Community Fund. There are 38 forum members, and they include other organisations on this panel, as well as corporate foundations, like Lloyds Bank Foundation or Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm Community Fund. They include broadcast appeals, like BBC Children in Need, and family foundations, like Waterloo Foundation and Oak Foundation.

Forum members are often charities themselves, and that means they're not just a cash machine, they've got their own mission to fulfil, although they choose to do this by supporting others with funding and sometimes with other forms of support. Since March, forum members have given over £34 million to communities across Wales to support the response to COVID-19. That's an incredible contribution of much-needed support, and independent funders clearly have a role to play. But the scale of the need, as I'm sure you've been hearing, is very much greater than the resources that foundations can bring to bear. Only Government can act at the scale that's needed.

Before the crisis, the forum met quarterly, but, in the immediate aftermath of the first lockdown, we started meeting weekly to co-ordinate responses and to share information about awards to understand the spread of funding and help to ensure that it was applied as effectively as possible. And we continue to meet monthly for this purpose. In addition, we've had regular meetings with Welsh Government officials, convened by Chris Buchan, head of community and third sector policy, and they've been incredibly helpful and much appreciated.

Members of the Wales Funders Forum are all independent and they all have their own views, so I'm not here to represent members of the forum in any way, but, clearly, I can share with you insights from their work this afternoon. Thank you for the invitation.

Thank you very much, Carol. Okay, and now Rebecca for the Moondance Foundation.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for inviting me here today. The Moondance Foundation supports many charitable causes, with a focus on Wales. Before COVID, we operated quite quietly, but, in response to the crisis, we launched a web presence and also an online application form for charities, organisations and activities in Wales. We've continued during this time to support existing relationships that we have, increasing flexibility and helping them to redivert funds where necessary, and also added greater support to the flood victims in Rhondda Cynon Taf, who were somewhat forgotten at the beginning of lockdown.

The crisis has highlighted the levels of deprivation in Wales, whether it's food, digital or just basic items. People managed on a day-to-day basis, and the pandemic has pulled this rug from under them. In response, Moondance has seen the third sector and their communities step up to meet the challenges. We've supported organisations to adapt to their services, but also supported organisations while they found their way forward, while they were unsure about what to do and how to respond.

Organisations have made changes that they have been talking about making for years. They've introduced digital alternatives where applicable. But there are concerns going forward. Can this be sustained? There is fatigue in the sector, both with volunteers, communities, and with organisations. And then is the funding there? We all recognise that the fundraising capabilities of charities have been severely detrimentally affected by the crisis. So, how will people have the money? We've seen national charities reducing their footprint in Wales, removing staff, and also this will impact services. We talk about saving the NHS, but need to remember just how much of the third sector supports the NHS, whether or not it's providing specialist nurses. So, what will this look like in the future?

In summary, while we have reacted well, the question is: how can we maintain this, and how can we keep it going forward in the future? Thank you, Chair. 

15:50

Thank you very much, Rebecca. And now Richard for the Community Foundation Wales. 

Diolch i chi am y gwahoddiad i ddod yma heddiw i siarad ac i rannu ychydig o'n profiadau ni dros y misoedd diwethaf. 

Thank you very much for the invitation to join you today and to share our experiences of the past few months. 

I'm very pleased to be here to share some insights that I've gathered over the past few months. Community Foundation Wales is an independent charitable foundation, established 20 years ago to connect philanthropy with communities in Wales. Our aim is always to strengthen communities, and our focus is very much on grass roots, so the people who need a little bit of help to achieve great things where they live. In that 20 years, we've invested almost £30 million in communities across Wales, and our average grant is currently about £4,500. We do all this by connecting people. So, we connect funders, donors and we share our expertise of community needs and advise philanthropy on where it can make the biggest impact. 

So, with regard to COVID-19, the two major parts that we've played are that we launched an emergency fund in the first week of it, encouraged support from our donors and the wider public, as well as businesses and trusts and foundations. And we've also been the delivery partners for the National Emergencies Trust in Wales, and also worked on some other large funds, including the Co-op, to support food programmes particularly. 

The strongest messages I'd want to bring here today are that we've seen the value of partnership in Wales over the last six months. We've sort of made it up a little bit as we've been going along, but we're in a stronger place now to build on that, and I think we've really seen the value of mature partnership work that we can now develop a lot more strongly. I think I'd want to bring in a message around the need to reframe and rebuild the sector. There are different skills that we're going to need, and very quickly over the foreseeable future, and we need support to get those in place. And also one of the best things I think we've seen in Wales over the last six months is the ability to move quickly and decisively, particularly when you maybe compare to the other areas of the UK, and there are other opportunities that we have in Wales to keep doing that, and I'm hoping we'll get an opportunity to show those today. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr. 

Diolch yn fawr, Richard. And now John Rose, for the National Lottery Community Fund. John. 

Thank you and prynhawn da, Chair. So, the National Lottery Community Fund is one of 12 UK distributors of money raised through the National Lottery for good causes. We support people and communities to thrive, and believe that people understand what's needed in their communities better than anyone else. Whilst we're governed by a UK board, in Wales, our strategy relating to funding themes and priorities is delegated to our country committee, which consists of people who live in, work in and understand Wales. 

In Wales, we distribute approximately £35 to £40 million a year of National Lottery funds annually, of which 95 per cent goes directly to the voluntary sector. In addition to National Lottery funding, we also distribute funds on behalf of others, including Government, and are responsible for the distribution of funds from the dormant bank accounts scheme.

As a funder of community-led activity, we've been at the forefront of supporting communities in Wales for the last 25 years with National Lottery funding, and more recently, in responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, by adapting our current approach and future plans to meet the needs of communities. Since lockdown, we've committed over £19 million of new money to in excess of 650 projects and organisations, as well as honouring existing commitments.

At the heart of our approach, but also the approach of many other funders, some of whom are here with us today, I think the following things have been key. Firstly, flexibility—showing trust in grant holders and allowing them to redirect their grant to meet the needs of their communities, and adjusting our monitoring so as not to overburden them at a time when they need to focus on front-line delivery. Also really important is the provision of both short, medium and longer term funding, so that organisations can meet immediate needs, but also have some degree of security about being ready for the future. Thirdly, prioritising projects that meet immediate needs in the short term, whilst also honouring existing commitments and encouraging longer term projects.

The National Lottery Community Fund has been working closely with other funders, including Wales Funders Forum, Welsh Government, to understand what we're seeing, what we're funding, and preparing for the future. This will continue to be important. Important also is collecting and publishing insights and learning from across the UK on community approaches to a variety of issues as wide-ranging as domestic abuse, money and finance and loneliness. Finally, we're evolving our future funding so that the offer to support organisations will adapt to the context, and remain committed to working with others and ensuring that our communities receive the support they need.

15:55

Okay. Thank you, John, and thank you, all, for your initial opening statements to committee today. Perhaps I might begin then with just the first question before we bring in other committee members. It's good to hear from you all that there has been effectiveness and pace, flexibility and innovation in the responses to this emergency and the need to get funding in place to deal with the emergency. So, could you just tell us a little bit more about how funders work together to co-ordinate the emergency response and that flexibility and innovation? And perhaps if you could mention just one or two examples of good practice to just give us some practical ways of dealing with these matters and how they've been effective. Who would like to start? Okay, I've seen John and Carol to begin with, then. John.

Thank you. It'll probably come as no surprise, over the forthcoming minutes, that there'll be a degree of head nodding between us. Because actually, fundamentally, at the heart of this, the four of us have been working very closely together, along with others, over the last six months. So, I guess one of the key things was coming together very quickly. Carol did a great job of bringing together the funders forum, and I shall talk about that a bit more, but we've all been working both with the funders forum and also with a smaller group of us who meet with Welsh Government officials, initially weekly, and then, more recently, around fortnightly, to keep in contact with each other. I'd describe this really, I think, as co-operation by communication. So, we worked really closely together initially to communicate with one another and to share learning and share understanding of who was funding where—I think that was critical. I think also, if we were to do this again and have more time for design, it would be great to look at how we work together by design in the future as well.

In terms of flexibility and innovation, I guess one of the critical things here really is about flexibility. So, I think all of us have adapted, or certainly I can speak for the fund to say that one of the first things we did was to basically say to our customers, 'We trust you'—so, those who already held grants, actually opening the door to them to use their funds, in the firm belief that they understood their communities far better than we did and needed to understand what they needed for that. And in order to do that, we've had to look at our approach to risk, actually take a bit more risk and also what I would call take the brakes off a little bit, so we require less monitoring at this point in time. There's a time and a point when funders just need to get out of the way and let communities do what's really important to them.

The way we've operated has been also to, if you like, reconfigure our funding, introduce priorities that made it clear to the outside world that we would prioritise COVID-19 applications. But, as an organisation that's been here for some time and had a whole host of applications in the pipeline, we also felt it was really important to honour those existing commitments—so, people who had applications due to be considered when the world changed on 17 March—and so we've worked with those organisations to adapt their plans, but also to make sure that they've had a fair crack at the whip in terms of receiving funding during that period, and, to do that, that's required us to reconfigure budgets. But I'll leave it at that, because I don't want to cut across what I'm sure will be a lot of common stuff from a few of us. 

16:00

Thanks very much, John, and we'll come back to some of those matters in due course. Carol.

Yes. I won't speak for Richard and Rebecca, because I know that they've both been incredibly flexible and co-ordinated in how they've used their funding, and I'll let them talk about that, clearly. But, just from the funders forum point of view, a couple of the things we looked at—a funder forum in London, called the London Funders network, developed a COVID-19 pledge that got national and actually international traction, and, by signing up to that COVID-19 pledge, funders committed to supporting grant recipients by being flexible with grants, being flexible about reporting formats, being flexible about deadlines and actually signalling that you're a listening ear as well, and many forum members signed up to that commitment.

Quite a number of funders have published data about the grants that they've given in response to COVID-19 on the 360Giving website. That's open to all types of funders, foundations, government funders. Quite a lot of local authorities have put data on that, and that's incredibly helpful in providing a picture of where the funding has gone. So, that's a real good practice point that I'd be keen for the committee to look at in terms of Welsh Government—the 360Giving website.

Then, just a couple of examples from the funders forum membership. Pen y Cymoedd Windfarm Community Fund—it reduced its turnaround time, so grantees didn't have to wait as long to hear results, and I know a lot of members did that. The Co-op Foundation normally gave project grants for distinct projects, but it said to those organisations, 'Actually, you can spend the money as you think it's most needed.' And Lloyds Bank Foundation restructured a package of support that they give to grantees and they adapted that to take into account COVID-19, so they offer consultancy support, training and development as well to their grantees. So, those are some examples of good practice.

Thank you very much, Carol. And I don't know if—do any of our other panel members want to come in, or are you happy with those responses? Rebecca. 

Thank you, Chair. Can I just add? Flexibility is key, and trust. We were able to let the brakes off and turn grants around within 48 hours to have money in the banks for organisations that needed that money, and that did require a large degree of trust on our part and also on the charities' parts. The other thing that has worked well, as John has said, is that we have been meeting with the Welsh Government to discuss things, and while we've shared information we've been able to identify where there have perhaps been issues. For instance, we started very early on supporting play groups, which seemed to fall through a number of different departments or holes or cracks in the pavement, whatever, and, through those conversations, Welsh Government were able to come on board and find help for those groups. So, communication has been key, and the sharing of information. 

The Welsh funders forum shared details amongst funders within the Welsh funders forum of all the grants that were made. So, as far as awarding grants, it gave us all an opportunity to see where money was going and who had or hadn't received money. So, it's been very effective in that sense. Thank you.

Okay. Just in terms of some of these innovative ways of dealing with the emergency situation, then, to what extent do you think those ways of working, those ways of operating, could be continued, or were they specifically for an emergency situation? And when we will be beyond the pandemic, hopefully, would you see some of these practices continuing—this reduced bureaucracy, the quicker ways of dealing with things? Or is it just something that was necessary during that emergency period? Richard. 

Yes, I think we've started something that there's no going back on, really. I think we've found confidence, as independent funders, to work with one another. At the end of the day, the resources that we've all got— and the other trusts and foundations—between us, it's not enough to meet the need here. So, it makes absolute sense that we're sharing what we're doing and trying to be co-ordinated and strategic about it. The risk, otherwise, and it's some of the learning from early on, is that we all end up funding the same people, and that makes no sense. So, I think we have started on it. There's technology that I think that we can use to support us on this journey, and we're doing that under Carol's leadership and the Wales Funders Forum. But, absolutely, and we're committed to it.

16:05

I think the best way I'd describe it is that it turbo charged us a little bit, which was really interesting, and I see no reason why we shouldn't continue to work more closely in the future. Carol and I have been having some discussions about commissioning a piece of work to look at what those opportunities might be, which, of course, will bring in a broader forum membership and other funders, so there's a good opportunity. There's nothing like a good crisis to make you do things that you might have worried about a little bit before, and get past things—[Inaudible.]—quite quickly.

Yes. Okay, John. Okay. Well, thanks for that then, and we'll bring in Huw Irranca-Davies at this point. 

Thanks, Chair. Really interesting opening answers there on that, but I just want to look at one of the potential downsides of this really dynamic response, which, as John was just saying, has turbo charged a way through normal process and so on and, from what you're saying, it's probably diverted some funding that might have been used for other things into this particular response, into a COVID response, and, as Rebecca was saying, COVID and the floods in parts of Rhondda Cynon Taf as well. So, I guess mine is the opportunity cost question. What does this mean for other strands of funding over the next six months? What does it mean for 12 months from now? Is there a cost from this dynamic response we've had where money has been focused and funnelled on the crisis in front of us? Does that mean—? You know, we can't just shake the tree again all the time. Who'd like to try and respond to that?

Just thinking about foundations, their funding source is usually investments. So, they are able to ride out some of the storms, and they are able to dig deep and fund. That said, the economy isn't delivering any more money for them than it was doing before the crisis. So, to some extent, it is a zero-sum game and you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. What that looks like in the future is difficult to say at this juncture. It depends very much on the future of the economy. For foundations that are invested in the economy, that's very obvious, but, for corporate foundations, they're getting money from their company, so it depends on the health of those future profits.

I wouldn't want to give you a false picture, though, and I wouldn't say it's fair to say that all funding has been about the COVID-19 emergency response. Funders have different missions and they are all looking at this crisis through the lens of that particular mission. And as part of that, yes, there's been an emergency response, but there's also been some thinking about, 'Okay, for my bit of the sector, what is it going to look like as we learn to live with COVID-19 and we learn to adapt?' So, yes, you are right—there has been diversion of funding, and also there's been thinking about the longer term picture.

Thank you. John, did you have your—did you signal you wanted to come in on that?

I'll touch on two areas. I think, firstly, as a National Lottery funder, one of the approaches we also took was to allow projects that weren't perhaps responding to the crisis to just stop. So, for some of those, they've been able to stop. They can use their funds to maintain a low level while they're doing that. They've also accessed other schemes, like the Government's furlough scheme, and that money will be there for them to continue to pick up. And as our awards are typically anywhere from one year, but frequently as many as five years, that will give a degree of continuity.

In relation to your second question, from a National Lottery distributor perspective, the amount of money we have available to distribute is dependent on lottery ticket sales. Now, at this point in time, they were affected early on, but they have recovered to some extent, and as long as lottery income remains buoyant, and there are no structural changes to the lottery, such as the different shares between different good causes, then I would be hopeful, based on current forecasts, that we could continue to operate at a similar level as we have done for the last couple of years. Our board did take a decision to take a bit more risk with minimum sums that were left in the National Lottery balance fund, if you like, and that's allowed us, actually, to pump a little bit more money into this year and will allow us to continue to make commitments over the next six months, bearing in mind that we overcommitted during the last six months. So, for us, yes, dependent on ticket sales.

The final thing I'd say here as well is I mentioned earlier we distribute dormant bank accounts money as well, and we're currently looking at how we can ensure that we can commit significant funds, particularly in the coming 18 months, but over a period one to five years, to give people some degree of security.

16:10

That's very interesting, very interesting. Richard or Rebecca? Rebecca, thank you.

Can I add, from a Moondance point of view, the trustees were very keen to support, with extra funds, the crisis immediately, but also are very aware and recognise that the need is going to continue for some time? I know you've heard from the British Red Cross earlier this afternoon, and they were talking about the fact they had reserves. A number of these charities have had good reserves and those reserves are running out. So, it's not just what's happened in the immediate crisis or what's going forward for the recovery now, but it is going to be much longer term, so it could be years to come that you will see the impact on what charities can actually provide as things settle down and as they see either their reserves fall down or their income decreases from lack of fundraising opportunities. Thank you.

Thank you, Rebecca. Richard, I don't know if you want to add anything.

Just one quick thought. We saw opportunity cost. As funders, we're always having to make decisions on how funding makes the biggest impact and what communities need the funding for. I think one of the benefits of partnership over the last few months is that we've been able to share those insights in Wales, probably more effectively, again, than in many areas. None of us are confident of what the needs are going to be like in six to 12 months. One of the things we've learned this year, really, is the world can change really quickly. So, historically, funders always make decisions about how funding is used, and there's always a cost—somebody always benefits, and somebody doesn't—and I think, in this climate, I would be less confident than ever that we're going to know in 12 months' time what the needs of communities in Wales are, which heightens really the need for us to be continuously listening and watching and sharing information.

Thank you very much—really helpful responses. I've got one other question for you. John, I think it was, mentioned earlier on that, as part of the dynamism behind the funding that you've put in, part of that was based on established groups out there that you could work with and that you had not just a network, but the trust in them that you could say, 'Here is what you need. Now do with it what you need to do for your community', and that's great. But what about new community groups, new self-help organisations and mutual help organisations that sprung up? I've seen, if you like, the fast-track resource going into established groups in my patch, and it has gone well, I have to say—their ability to turn around and say, 'I need it now. We know what to do, just give it to us.' And they've really responded well. What about the new groups? Have you also engaged with them? Have they been able to benefit from some funding as well? John.

It's a great question, actually, and I would say 'broadly, yes'. So, we've supported a significant number of new organisations. When I say 'broadly, yes', we do expect some degree of, I suppose, organisation that we'd expect to see. So, there are a number of checks on personal identification or the nature of those groups. But, for us, as a funder, we will fund unincorporated groups.

I think one point that is important to make that we might want to think about is how we support communities to volunteer in ways that they want to, as opposed to fitting into existing structures. So, you mentioned there mutual aid groups, and we're about to begin and test another piece of work, probably in Blaenau Gwent, I believe, about making micro-grants to groups that aren't even constituted; they might be a small grouping of people coming together. And we're looking to do that by way of issuing prepaid cards, which gives you that degree of being able to monitor expenditure as well. But I think, going forward, it's really important that we think about how people want to volunteer, as well as trying to get them to volunteer in ways that fit into our traditional structures.

16:15

Thanks for that. I wonder if I should put that same question to Rebecca, and not only in COVID response, but in the flooding response and so on. I know there's a lot of money that's flowed in from you into the Rhondda area and so on, and it's been well received. Has it tended to go to established groups, where you know that there's an element of credibility they can deliver on what they say they're going to do, or has it tended to go to newer, additional groups?

I think, with respect to the flood response, we've had to do that at a community level. We've had good help from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, who've actually distributed that money locally, partly because we didn't have the capacity to do that. It is always very difficult, whether or not we are reaching new groups, because in some ways we have to wait for them to reach us and for them to find out about us. So, there is that delay while they're being established, while they're searching around. We have made ourselves much more visible than we have ever been before, and we will wait and see how that works going forward. We are online now, which we were never before. In some ways, we have to wait—we can't go and find those new groups as we just don't have the capacity, so we have to wait for them to come to us. But we are considering charities, mutual aid groups, all sorts, and they don't have to be constituted. So, we are being very open with what we support, but they just have to find us.

That's really helpful. Chair, I just wonder if I could pop that question to Richard as well. With [Inaudible.] years of funding, have you found in this emergency response it's been established groups or new ones?

No, it's a mixture. Bearing in mind that we tend to focus on the grass roots, it's the lower level of grant making. We have funded some new groups. We've been quite keen to try and ensure equity of funding, geographically, with different communities as well, and sometimes we've funded groups in areas of the communities that we haven't historically had relationships with, and we've been more focused, really, on getting the monies in the right places, where they're needed, rather than maybe some of the governance checks that would have been a higher priority in the past. That's a really interesting and maybe a little bit of a geeky area to take this conversation into, but it's quite a big challenge for funders now, because we are used to looking after charitable money in a very careful way that ensures good impacts. That, in short, means checking and keeping the reputation of the charity as high as we can. So, for us to take risks in doing that is quite a big thing, but in the current climate, where there are clearly some communities more directly impacted by COVID, we've been taking steps to get the money there a bit quicker and maybe in ways that we haven't done in the past.

Thanks, Richard. And, Chair, it's just interesting, I think, for us as a committee, because we've heard such positivism from the witnesses in terms of this dynamism and getting the money to where it's needed, but, from Richard now, that was the first, if you like, word of caution we've heard—that, at some point, what doesn't want to rebound on any funder is something where it's gone wrong. So, it's an interesting dynamic, that.

Yes, it's always there, isn't it, in terms of funders, but particularly when you're looking to innovate and turbocharge anything, as John said. Did anybody else want to come back with anything on any of those? Carol.

Just to come in on that point, really, I think that's where working together has proved so well. I mean, Rebecca was talking about how she worked with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. There are some foundations that can't give to anything other than a registered charity—that's a limit in their constitution—and some of the ways you can work around that are to work with others, like working with the community foundation or another funder that knows its patch really, really well. It can be more technically challenging to give to something that isn't a registered charity, because then you have to satisfy yourself that the funds are being used for charitable purposes. But there are lots of funders in Wales, as we've just heard, that have that expertise. So, again, working together is the key to this, I think.

16:20

One final point is that this has to be about risk management not risk avoidance, because the risk is not meeting the needs the people who are going hungry or isolated. So, inevitably, I'd suspect there will be some that aren't perfect, but, interestingly, by working together, we also averted a small number of applications that we had concerns over when we were able to talk to each other as well.

Yes, joint working and any advantages of it is a big message from all of this, isn't it, and surprisingly, really. Okay, we'll move on to Delyth. Delyth Jewell.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Mae lot o sôn wedi bod dros y misoedd diwethaf am fel mae'r pandemig a'r cyfnodau clo wedi cael effaith anghyfartal ar rai grwpiau o bobl. Ydych chi'n teimlo bod digon o ffocws wedi bod ar ariannu grwpiau neu brosiectau sy'n gweithio gyda'r cymunedau yna sydd wedi cael eu heffeithio'n fwy—cymunedau BAME, pobl hŷn a phobl fel yna? Ydy'r pandemig wedi golygu bod arianwyr, neu funders, yn ailfeddwl blaenoriaethau? Pwy bynnag sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf.

Thank you, Chair. A great deal of mention has been made in the past few weeks about how the pandemic and the lockdown periods have had an impact or an unequal impact on different groups of people. Do you feel that there is sufficient focus on funding groups or projects that work with those communities that have been impacted to a greater degree, such as black, Asian, minority ethnic communities, older people and so on? Has the pandemic meant that funders are reconsidering their priorities? I don't know who wants to go first.

Yn sicr, yn y misoedd diwethaf mae yna fwy o ffocws wedi bod ar gymunedau gwahanol. Ar draws Prydain gyfan, mae arian wedi dod o dan gryn bwysau, a chyhuddiadau nad ydyn ni'n cyrraedd cymunedau yn y ffordd orau, a dwi'n meddwl bod arianwyr yn fwy ymwybodol o hyn nag erioed o'r blaen. Yn sicr, o ran yr elusen dwi'n gweithio iddi, dŷn ni wedi bod yn meddwl am gymunedau a dŷn ni wedi cymryd camau proactive i gyrraedd cymunedau pan dŷn ni'n gweld nad yw'r arian yn cyrraedd yna. Roeddwn i'n disgrifio gynnau fel dŷn ni wedi bod yn cymryd camau o ran sut dŷn ni'n asesu applications weithiau, a'r priority oedd cael arian i'r lle iawn, nid dilyn y broses. Mae hyn yn beth reit risky i ni ei wneud, a dŷn ni dan bwysau. Fedrwch chi newid prosesau er mwyn i arian gyrraedd y llefydd iawn, ond dwi'n meddwl bod yna angen amlwg wedi codi—mae yna gap rhwng cyrhaeddiad rhai cymunedau ac arianwyr, ond hefyd mae angen mwy o gefnogaeth i rai cymunedau. Mae angen mwy o gefnogaeth o ran datblygu y gallu i weithio gyda'r trusts a'r foundations fel bod yna gyfle teg er mwyn cael yr arian i mewn. Mae yna drafodaeth fawr yn y sector am sut i wneud hynny ar hyn o bryd. Dwi'n meddwl y buasai pob cronfa yn derbyn y ffaith ein bod ni i gyd angen gwneud mwy.

Certainly, in the past few months, there's been a greater focus on different communities. Across the UK, funders have come under a great deal of pressure, and we've faced accusations that we haven't reached communities in the best way, and I think that funders are more aware of this now than we ever were before. Certainly, the charity I work for has been thinking about different communities, and we've taken proactive steps to reach communities when we see that the funding isn't reaching them. I described earlier how we've been taking steps in terms of how we assess applications, and the priority has been to ensure that funding reaches the right place and not to adhere to procedure. That's quite a risky thing for us to do, and we have come under pressure. You can amend the procedures in order for money to reach the right places, but we have seen that needs have arisen—there is a gap between funders and the attainment of some communities, but some communities also need greater support. They need greater support in terms of the developing the availability to work with those foundations and trusts so that there is an equal opportunity to access funding. There's a great deal of debate in the sector in terms of how we do that. I think every fund would accept the fact that we do need to do more in that regard.

Diolch. Would anyone else like to add anything to that?

Just to add to that, I'd just agree with Richard—I think we've all looked at more of a focus, particularly on those high-profile areas, such as the disproportionate impact that COVID's had on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. So, as funders, we've certainly done that. One of the challenges, to answer your question, clearly, is we all count and codify the data in a slightly different way in terms of understanding that. So, for us, we ask a question around whether projects are targeted at specific groups, and that can sometimes miss where people are picked up as part of the general population, so it's a very difficult one to give you an absolute answer there. I think, looking forward, one of the things that's really critical to understand is to make sure that—and I heard this from a lady who was speaking in England, and who described it in this way—all funders don't run to the same side of the boat. So, it's actually thinking about how we ensure in the future that we are still spreading our funding appropriately, and picking up on those causes that perhaps are less obvious, if you like, or there's less coverage of, to make sure that we can continue to be for everyone. 

I really like that analogy about making sure that everyone doesn't run to the same side of the boat; that's really clever. Diolch. Thank you. Carol. Sorry, Cadeirydd. Sorry, Carol.

16:25

Diolch am y cwestiwn.

Thank you for the question.

I think there have always been funders that have had a focus on working with specific groups before the pandemic, so, for example, the Funders Alliance for Race Equality—that was founded in 2017. But I think what the pandemic has done is raised this up the agenda and made it really obvious that if you don't pay attention to this, then you inadvertently discriminate against certain groups. I would hate to describe it as a good outcome of the pandemic, but it's definitely good that it's moved up the agenda of funders. 

I think the emergency response could have been characterised in the first few weeks as, 'Well, we want to reach the most vulnerable groups', and then as data has become available and evidence about how COVID-19 has impacted on different groups has become available, then funders have been quick to calibrate their response and to be more targeted in the way that they provide their funding. There are lots of resources that can help out there, and Comic Relief—it also has funds in Wales—has been working up some principles that ACF published about how to provide a targeted response to your COVID-19 funding, and there have been some fantastic examples within the Wales Funders Forum too.

My colleagues in England, one of the approaches they've been taking with this is to look at how we work through other expert bodies who have better links in with those communities. We've been told that some communities feel that we're really not for them, and in those circumstances, yes, we have to look hard and improve how we work, but in the short term, certainly, some of the approaches have been to work through trusted partners who have better reach. I think going forward as well, the added benefits to this working more closely together, for example, are there. So, for me, as somebody who funds with the proceeds of gambling, that's a moral and sometimes religious objection for some organisations, who don't feel that they can legitimately access National Lottery funding. So, it's really important that then we can look at how we link them in with a source of funding that they do feel comfortable with.

Thank you. Yes, that makes sense. Rebecca, did you agree or was there anything else you wanted to add?

Just to say I agree with everything everyone's said. What's also been interesting, in areas where perhaps we haven't had a presence before, is word of mouth. Wales is quite a small place, so we start and someone finds out about us and word spreads organically. So, you do find that there are pockets and that has increased and that does spread, but equally, by sharing what we have available as far as funding, you're sometimes able to point people in the right direction. So, you know, while you might not be able to help someone, you can at least refer them to someone else who perhaps can. So, that's been helpful.

Diolch. There was actually just one other question I had. It was picking up on something that Rebecca—I think it was Rebecca—said, and it came up in one of our earlier evidence sessions as well. It was the fact that a number of charities have reduced their presence, whether that's staff or otherwise, in Wales recently. Is that something that's also being seen to the same extent in Scotland and Northern Ireland, to your knowledge, or is that something that has particularly been affecting Wales?

I'm still unmuted so I'll answer that. I'll jump in. I can only speak on certain organisations that we've been working with and they're national charities, and we've seen, perhaps, the director of Wales being removed, but then they have chosen to remove the directors of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and create one director for the UK. I think, if anything, COVID has emphasised just how differently the Governments of the nations work, and it is concerning, because a number of cancer charities are obviously struggling and are looking to reduce their costs. Just how that voice will then input into Wales—because, really, a national director might not know or understand the workings of what happens in Wales, and therefore they miss the point, and they really don't represent the people. So, that's been a concern that we've seen in a number of cancer charities.

16:30

That's very worrying. Thank you. I know that that was a specific question—if anyone else wanted to add anything, you'd be welcome to, but please don't feel that you have to, because I know that was very specific.

I think I'm still off mute, so I'll chip in. We've seen this in some of the environmental charities as well, but what we're seeing there is actually across the UK, so the National Trust have put in absolutely swingeing savings to try and continue to exist. I think that's an interesting pointer.

You talk about the voluntary sector but, of course, it's so diverse, and I certainly get a sense that the environment sector, which I work quite closely with as another part of my role, has been significantly affected, owing to reduced membership and reduced income through, if you like, sites. So, it's quite important to understand that it can vary significantly depending on the different type of organisation.

Good afternoon, everybody. Prynhawn da. We heard in previous sessions and a little bit more from you about the role that the voluntary sector and community networks can play in reconstruction recovery after this emergency. What opportunities and challenges do you think that this presents for you as funders? How can Government work better with you to make the sector sustainable, through more of a co-productive approach? And how can this reflect, as we heard in the earlier session, for example, from Hafod, more of a whole-system approach, both in terms of funding but also support that you or colleagues might be able to provide applicants in showing Government, as partners, the social return on investment?

It's a really big question, that one, Mark—it's really broad. I'll try and answer part of it. I think Government has got a really important role, as have funders as well, in helping the sector get used to what the world looks like now. For example, historically, groups in Wales aren't the best at getting investment from UK trusts and foundations. So, we start from a really weak position on that and the likelihood, maybe, in the next year or so, if what Carol mentioned earlier on about investment is correct, and the fact that they may have spent more than usual this year, is we might see that investment in Wales tightening in the year ahead. Now, when you're starting from a weak position and then you see that funding tightened further, that's quite ominous. I think Welsh Government has a role to play alongside people like ourselves in helping to facilitate and co-ordinate conversation with those trusts and foundations, helping us explain to them the context here and taking steps to do something about it. I think that's definitely one priority.

The second priority for me is making sure that the sector has the right skills in place to get us through this. I think the skills that we required a year or so ago—it's changed so, so quickly and at a time when people are at capacity, over their ears, and have not got the time to think about what they're having for tea, never mind what they're doing in work in six months' time, I think there's a role there for co-ordinating and facilitating conversations across funders and providers to make sure that, in Wales, we have the best people leading organisations with the best support to make sure that they're able to navigate their way through this.

Just thinking about the sustainability point, the irony in all of this is that those organisations that had done the right thing, they'd gone out, they got a more diverse funding model, they were trading, they were raising funds from the public—it's those organisations that have fared worse, whereas ones that were just operating on grants have been largely unaffected in terms of funding. And so I think it's vital that, in thinking about the future, we reinforce the message that, actually, the diverse funding model is the sustainable model in the long term.

I chair something called the match trading taskforce and that includes Lloyds Bank Foundation and UnLtd. The way that works is that instead of giving a straight grant, you match the grant amount that you give to an increase in traded income by the grantee. And the taskforce is working with the trade-back concept, matching funding that organisations manage to trade back from the starting point that they've had to go back to, through the COVID-19 crisis. Interestingly, in the evidence that we submitted to the committee, UnLtd are finding that there's greater demand for support for new social entrepreneurs, so that's an encouraging sign. I think the sector's shown that digital offers new ways for delivering services, although I wouldn't want to overemphasise that. It's working because, at the moment, there isn't much choice about how a service can be delivered, and it's losing some of the finesse that you get when you're able to meet face to face. But certainly what is clear—and you will have heard WCVA say this—is that the sector isn't going to look like it did pre COVID-19 because too much has gone out of the system. And I think that all funders have a role to play in supporting organisations to think through what it means for them and what it means for their individual missions, whether that's mental health, working with young people or domestic abuse. They're all going to have to think about what their sustainable funding model is going forward. Building on the collaboration that has happened and the intelligence that funders can bring, I think there's a potential to speak about collaboration when the idea of funds are being conceived rather than launching a fund and then working out how it can be linked in to other funds. So, it will be tough and it will be challenging. I'm just trying to point to some of the optimistic signs for the future.

16:35