Charities face a challenging political environment in Northern Ireland today. As a research consultancy with a specialism in political monitoring, we wanted to sponsor the ‘Leading on Political Impact’ award at the C03 Leadership Conference this year. In our research, we have seen lots of charities demonstrating best practice in this field and we consider this award recognition of their good work.
We wanted to share some of our thoughts on the challenges that charities face in Northern Ireland. We’ve also looked at how MLAs perceive charities in Stormont and which sectors they think have been performing well in the last year.
With statutory funding decreasing and consumers heavily indebted, charities are facing challenging times in Northern Ireland. In addition, more charities than ever before are seeking to move their priorities up the political agenda in Stormont.
Meanwhile, confidence in the UK Government to deliver for the sector is low. In our State of the Sector survey, which we ran with Third Sector magazine last summer, we garnered the opinions of 600 charity workers. We asked how well they thought the current government had delivered on its three aims: getting more resources into the sector, making it easier to work with the government and making it easier to run a charity. Less than 6% thought the government had done any of those things.
MLAs support the role of charities in Stormont
MLAs are very supportive of charities’ political engagement at Stormont – more so than any other parliament or Assembly in the UK. 93% of MLAs definitely find it acceptable for ‘a charity to hold a reception/event at Parliament buildings to inform MLAs of the work it is doing’. In addition, 79% definitely find it acceptable for a charity to ‘highlight the effects of a policy on its beneficiaries.’ This is the case for just 40% of Westminster MPs.
Whilst AMs and MSPs are also more favourable to charity engagement than MPs, the high support MLAs show for working with charities in Stormont suggests charities are very well placed for building political relationships in Northern Ireland.
Charities impressing MLAs in 2014
In our most recent research with MLAs late last year, we found that they were impressed by a number of charities from several different sectors. Many of their comments on why individual charities have impressed centred on the cause, and more specifically being made aware of an issue. Comments such as “consistently to the fore in providing their services and keeping me informed” were quite typical.
One sector that performed particularly strongly with MLAs was the cancer sector. Half of the top 18 charities that MLAs spontaneously mentioned as impressing them in the last year were cancer charities. As a proportion, this is far higher than in any of the Parliaments and Assemblies across the UK.
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