Suffolk Congress Terms of Reference

Suffolk Congress Terms of Reference (Downloadable Version)

Terms of Reference – The Suffolk Congress

 1        Definition

The Suffolk Congress is made up of organisations whose members have come forward to offer their time, resources and expertise to help drive forward the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) agenda in Suffolk.

It operates as a free collaborative network of the willing and is not a constituted body.

It is committed to working alongside statutory agencies and other Suffolk stakeholders, in a partnership of equals, to provide practical solutions to enhance the lives of the people of Suffolk.

Further information about the Suffolk Congress can be found at

2        Purpose/Objectives

The Suffolk Congress has been established in order to:

  • facilitate and promote joint working between the VCS and the statutory and business sector.
  • act as a consultative forum to discuss, identify and raise issues of concern.
  • assist the public sector in developing a strategy for working with the Voluntary and Community Sector.
  • act as a source of information for public bodies.
  • advocate and campaign on behalf of the Voluntary and Community Sector.
  • assist communication both within the VCS and with external bodies.

3        Membership

Membership of the Suffolk Congress is open to any organisation from the VCS in Suffolk.  Members agree to their contact details being held on the Suffolk Congress email distribution list which acts as the definitive membership list.  As such, members are expected to meet the responsibilities set out below not least the regular attendance at the monthly meetings.

The expectation is for attendance at the Suffolk Congress meetings to be by senior people from member organisations and to be limited to one person from each organisation except where an organisation has regional, local or organisational structures that make such a limit to be restrictive to the organisation and/or the Suffolk Congress.

Senior staff sign up to the Suffolk Congress by giving their contact details and may access information via the website. Members of the wider Suffolk Congress Network are then invited to become members of the Suffolk Congress and are informed of the responsibilities of members.

4        Membership Responsibilities and representation

Members of the Suffolk Congress work on behalf of the VCS and are not at the table to further the interests of their own organisation to the exclusion of the wider agenda. All members agree to the Suffolk Congress terms of reference

The Suffolk Congress is an active group and all members are expected to contribute to the core work, the work of the subgroups, and the development of the Suffolk Congress outside of meetings.  This will include promoting the Suffolk Congress, joint working as agreed, and the circulation of information to frontline groups on their own mailing lists.

Confidentiality, where requested, must be maintained.  Respect should be given to the contributions of all members.

The Suffolk Congress members agree to declare any conflicts of interest which may occur.

Requests from the statutory and business sector for a representative from Congress on behalf of the VCS are put forward within meetings. Members are invited to volunteer based upon their knowledge, interests and capacity. Agreed representatives will be supported with intelligence and will be expected to provide feedback and any actions for the Congress.

When representing the Suffolk Congress, members agree to present the views of the Suffolk Congress and not their own or those of their organisation.  Members need to be especially sensitive to the aspiration of the Congress to build relationships and to promote the principles of “working together”.

5        Ownership

As a collaborative network, the Suffolk Congress has no hierarchy.

There is a shared ownership and responsibility within the Suffolk Congress.

All partners within the Suffolk Congress have an equal voice and the same opportunities to contribute.

 6        Resources

It is recognised that some members of the Suffolk Congress may have less capacity than others within the partnership and opportunities such as the locality and specialist networks will ensure no one in the VCS is disadvantaged by this

7        Decision Making and Quorum

Decisions related to the work of the Suffolk Congress are taken by those present at the monthly meetings and the membership will be notified by highlighting in the Agenda in advance of the meeting where a decision needs to be taken.

Changes to the TOR, other governance issues or significant changes of direction or approach can only be made when duly notified as above and with the attendance of one third of the membership being present.

All decisions are on a simple majority basis with no casting vote by the Chair but should not be taken without one third of the membership being present. Decisions which relate to less significant changes such as who represents the Suffolk Congress for example can be taken without a third of the membership being present.

In between meetings, where urgent decisions need to be made the Steering Group (see paragraph 10) is empowered to agree actions and decisions but these must be reported back at the earliest point by email and at the next meeting, for example when deciding representation from the Congress on behalf of the VCS.

8        Methods of Communication

In addition to meetings, an email list of all the Suffolk Congress members will be used to facilitate communication between members outside of formal meetings. The website will be the key means of communication for Suffolk Congress members.

9        Chair of Suffolk Congress Meetings

The role of the Chair of the meeting is to facilitate the conduct of meetings and has no status outside of the meeting.  The Chair of the meeting will be selected at the beginning of each meeting and can be taken on by any member of the Suffolk Congress.

Members of the Suffolk Congress will support the Chair of the meeting to focus on the business of this partnership.

10      Management Between Meetings and role of the Steering Group

The Suffolk Congress will elect, on an annual basis, a Steering Group of up to 10 people to manage the Suffolk Congress between meetings which shall include drafting strategic priorities, agendas, organising speakers, following through agreed Congress actions, resolving issues especially in respect to immediate requests by other agencies for representation, information or input.

11      Agenda

All the Suffolk Congress members are invited to submit items for the agenda which will be coordinated by CAS and the Steering Group.

12      Meetings and Procedures

Notes and actions will be recorded at the meetings, Steering Group, task and finish groups and circulated to all members and posted on the Congress website.

13      Task and Finish Groups and Sub Groups

The Suffolk Congress will try to undertake any identified additional work through task and finish groups and subgroups. These will be set up in response to an identified need, and will be open to all members. Such groups may formulate a response to a public sector partner consultation, changes in policy,  or to address an area of work related to the four Congress principles.  Any member of Suffolk Congress can become involved in a task and finish group and sub group that reflects their specialism and interests.

Task and Finish Groups:

  • will adhere to the terms of reference and report back to the Suffolk Congress on their actions and outcomes.
  • will prepare reports on their actions and outcomes which will be posted on the Suffolk Congress website in order to ensure that Congress members are kept fully apprised of the actions of the Suffolk Congress.

These Groups are intended to be task and finish groups and therefore time limited.

The Suffolk Congress will have two ongoing sub groups:

  • The Working Together Forum
  • The VCS Health and Wellbeing Network

The VCS Health and Wellbeing Network is an open forum for VCS organisations with a particular interest and expertise in health and wellbeing issues. It will be chaired by the VCS representative on the Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board and will support the work of the representative.

Subgroups will work according to terms of reference agreed by the Suffolk Congress and notes of meetings will be circulated to members with the papers of the next available meeting of Suffolk Congress

Should the need arise for additional sub groups these will be established by agreement at a full meeting of Suffolk Congress including terms of reference and membership

14      Principles of Partnership Working

The Suffolk Congress is committed to the principles of participation, collaboration, open and transparent communication and learning.

An effective partnership seeks to evaluate its performance.

15      Intellectual Property Rights and Branding

Ownership and branding should be decided upon at the start of any collaborative projects and these decisions recorded.

16      Joint Funding Applications

In the event of any Suffolk Congress projects requiring external funding and a joint funding application being submitted, the Suffolk Congress will need to agree upon an Accountable Body and a Project Steering Group.

17      Evaluation

The Suffolk Congress commits to consult the wider VCS on the work carried out on its behalf, in order to shape the direction of this work.

The Suffolk Congress commits to monitor its effectiveness.

A review of the Terms of Reference and the work programme should be carried out on an annual basis.

Evaluation and Impact Reports will be posted to the website.