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In/out? What’s your organisation’s position on the EU referendum?

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Judith Stone, Assistant Director of Policy, Partnerships and Engagement at WCVA, gives us the low down on the upcoming referendum and considerations for the third sector.

Our natural focus in Wales is on the Assembly election results and recent events in the Senedd. However alongside this important political context, our attention will swiftly turn to the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union (EU), to be held on 23 June 2016.

The outcome of the Assembly elections, and the creation of a new Welsh Government, may have an impact on the behaviour of Welsh voters in the EU referendum. Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are in the ‘remain’ camp, with UKIP and high profile members of the Welsh Conservative party supporting a vote to leave the EU.

A recent poll for ITV and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre indicated that 41% of those polled in Wales said they would vote to remain; 36% said they wanted to leave, and 24% said don’t know/wouldn’t vote.

The Electoral Commission has designated The In Campaign Ltd as the lead campaigner for the Remain outcome and Vote Leave Ltd as the lead campaigner for the Leave outcome, with the official campaign period underway since 15th April.

What stance is the third sector in Wales taking?

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A number of environmental NGO’s have adopted a pro position on the referendum, citing the tangible positive impacts on water quality, reductions to Co2 emissions, increases in recycling rates and measures to protect species and habitats, to support their positions.  Others have sought to set out the arguments to remain/leave, but a challenge shared across the piece is the lack of concrete facts to substantiate either position. You can read a sample of views on the EU referendum pages of WCVA’s website.

WCVA’s briefing paper sets out our position. We believe that the EU referendum is a key constitutional issue with cross generational significance and we’ve thought long and hard about our stance.

We have a 16 year track record of working with the sector to deliver EU Structural and Investment Funds projects in Wales and have seen firsthand the positive impacts that projects have made on people’s lives. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, WCVA will continue to advocate for this kind of investment in our people and communities.

In accordance with our charitable objects and articles of association, WCVA’s role is to promote the voluntary sector in Wales. We do this by providing services including information, advice, training and support to our members and the wider third sector in Wales. WCVA considers our role to be to inform the sector, offer guidance to the sector to act in compliance with the Charity Commission’s regulatory guidance for charities and to provide a stimulus for open and honest debate.

For this reason, WCVA is not advocating a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ position. This is not because we do not believe in the seriousness of this issue, but because we are aware that the views from the sector will be many and varied, and WCVA recognises that there is no single sector voice on this issue.

What are the parameters third sector organisations must work within?

The Charity Commission has issued specific guidance for charities that may be considering public involvement in the debate leading up to the referendum. Charities must be aware of what the law allows them to do and not to do and they must not engage in political activity unless they can demonstrate compliance with the Commission’s guidance.

The guidance provides a clear statement that involvement by charities in the debate will amount to a political activity. This is a helpful reminder that charities must follow the stricter rules on campaigning and engaging in political activities. The guidance also highlights that the possibility of a loss of funding is not in itself a justification for political activity directed at a ‘remain’ vote. This is important, because the key issue is how remaining or leaving the EU would affect a charity’s purposes.

You can read more information about the EU referendum on WCVA’s website. We will be posting information about key developments, and will seek to reflect a diverse range of views through our website. If you would like to share your organisation’s position, please e-mail policy@wcva.org.uk  and keep an eye on the website for up-dates.

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