Wales Shows the (Third) Way
Tuesday, 15th April 2014 at 11:17 am
ANU policy analyst John Butcher looks at a “fine example” of how executive government, the public sector and the Not for Profit sector can work collaboratively in the public interest.
In January this year, the Welsh Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Jeff Cuthbert, announced a revised Welsh Third Sector Scheme 2014.
The Scheme sets out in detail the manner in which the Welsh Government will work with the Third Sector to ensure the “the long term economic, social and environmental well-being of Wales, its people and communities”.
Wales is unique amongst national and sub-national jurisdictions in the Anglo-American sphere in that its founding legislation, the Government of Wales Act 2006 (section 74) requires Welsh ministers to make a scheme setting out how they propose to promote the interests of relevant voluntary organisations. The Third Sector Scheme (formerly referred to as the Voluntary Sector Scheme) represents the fulfillment of that statutory obligation.
This kind of collaborative framework, sanctioned by legislation and developed in full consultation with the community and voluntary sector in Wales has enjoyed cross-party and strong cross-sector support since a proposal for the devolution of self-government in Wales was approved in a 1998 referendum.
Many countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand have explored the possibility of cross-sector policy frameworks but none has enjoyed either legislative sanction or explicit cross-party support in their respective parliaments. Only Wales, England (The Compact) and Northern Ireland (Concordat) have framework agreements in place that enjoy cross-party support, and only the Welsh Third Sector Scheme has a statutory basis.
Wales offers a potent lesson for Australia. Here the National Compact developed in consultation with the Not for Profit sector was a worthy attempt to place the relationship between government and the sector on a more civil, predictable footing. It also provided the foundation for the Labor government's broad reform agenda including the creation of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), the Charities Act 2013, and the Not-for-profit Sector Freedom to Advocate Act 2013.
What Labor failed to do was to win bipartisan support for the National Compact or important elements of its reform agenda. In addition, the fragmented and contested nature of the Not for Profit sector itself contributed to its inability to build consensus around the reforms and to “decontest” the proposition that the sector is a vital partner to government in the delivery of social policy outcomes.
I highly recommend that anyone with an interest in the interface between government and the Not for Profit sector take a close look at the Welsh Third Sector Scheme and its attached Code of Practice for Funding the Third Sector. The Welsh case offers a fine example of how executive government, the public sector and the Not for Profit sector can work collaboratively in the public interest.
Whilst people might have differing views about the desirability of codifying the relationship to the extent that it has been in Wales, one should not discount the value of their 15 years worth of experience navigating a sometimes tricky policy and operational terrain.
About the Author: John Butcher is currently a PhD candidate in the Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. He has worked as a policy and performance analyst in state and Commonwealth line and central agencies. He has a long-standing scholarly interest in the relationship between the formal institutions of government and civil society. He is especially interested in the political framing of the Not for Profit sector and its role as a vehicle for the delivery of public policy. For his PhD dissertation (ANU) Butcher undertook a comparative case study of cross-sector policy frameworks in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada.