The Chair confirmed that Jamie Buckley had been unable to attend the meeting and John Golding would be presenting her report, on her behalf.
During the presentation, the following points were made;
· The Voluntary, Community & Social Enterprise Sector (VCSE) are major players in alleviating poverty and supporting households in various ways.
· The Sector is not for profit, supports the whole district and offers services in a range of services covering issues relating to jobs, education, money, health and food.
· VCSE groups are actively working in communities and partners with the Council to fulfil its ambitions on poverty. In turn, the Council can influence how they operate and offer support on issues such as recruitment, legal advice, safeguarding amongst others.
· The VCSE Sector works well but needs practical support to function at its best. COVID has shown the importance of ‘community’ and mutual support at local level.
· There has been no Council for Voluntary Service in East Devon for some years, which would have offered support, advice and advocacy, representation and networking opportunities across the VCSE Sector.
· The emerging Poverty Strategy Action Plan seeks to capture key issues which have been highlighted by groups in the VCSE Sector and respond with proposals to support and coordinate VCSE activity in a sensitive way to add value.
Debate following the presentation, included the following comments:
· Groups from the VCSE had engaged in discussions with the Panel.
· COVID has been shown not to be the cause of many problems, but has exacerbated them, for people relying on Universal Credit, for example. For parents with children who have had to home-school, the financial impact of no free school meals has been huge on low incomes. Also people who could not work from home or those with mental health problems were significantly affected by the pandemic.
· The Council needs to work with other organisations who are in contact with people directly, and can be agile in their responses.
· Officers are sensitive to the independence of VCSE groups, when groups are requesting specific forms of help.
· A Directory of Services could be of benefit, although it was recognised that setting up and maintaining an up to date Directory would be resource intensive.
· An umbrella organisation such as a Council for Voluntary Service could fulfil a role similar to a Directory.
· The potential for volunteer burnout was recognised and groups could be assisted with recruitment to help support volunteers.
· Concern was raised regarding local residents’ access to credit unions as none were registered in East Devon. Officers had started work to research credit unions and similar schemes and a report would be brought to the next meeting.
· It was hoped that the annual Working Together events would recommence when possible.
· Short podcasts were suggested as a means of reaching residents with reading difficulties.
· Mental health first aider training was recommended as being beneficial for all Councillors.
The Chair thanked everyone for their contributions to the discussion and wished to record her thanks to John Golding for presenting in Jamie Buckley’s absence.