Bronwyn Pike to head new UnitingCare Agency Board

Bronwyn PikeFormer State Health Minister Bronwyn Pike has been appointed inaugural Chair of the new UnitingCare single Agency Board.

UnitingCare will become one of the largest community service organisations operating in Victoria and Tasmania under a new single governance structure aimed at strengthening its ability to support people in need throughout the two states.

It comes after a decision by the Synod Standing Committee (SSC) last year to establish a single skills-based Agency Board.

The Board will govern 18 UnitingCare agencies and Wesley Mission Victoria (WMV) supported by regional advisory committees, local support groups and clinical governance committees. Currently, the agencies and Wesley Mission Victoria are all governed by individual boards.

Alternative models of support are being considered for smaller agencies. A model of support for congregations and presbyteries currently providing local or regional community services will also be developed.

Ms Pike is a board member and chair of Western Health and Renewal SA, president of the Australian College of Educators, chair of the advisory committee for the RMIT Centre for Urban Research and a board member of Uniting in the NSW/ACT Synod.

Before entering parliament in 1999 – and serving as a minister for 11 of her 13 years in Parliament, Ms Pike was the director of Uniting Church welfare programs in Victoria, which provided children, youth, family and aged care services as well as social justice advocacy. She said she is looking forward to returning to the church community.

“The Uniting Church has been an enormous part of my life since my childhood,” Ms Pike said.

“There is a strong sense of coming home and being able to bring with me very broad experience in government and the private sector to assist the church’s community services activities during this time of significant change.”

UnitingCare Project Control Group (PCG) Chair Bob Hodges said the new governance structure would build on UnitingCare’s reputation as leader in the provision of high quality community services across both states.

“It will make the work of client facing staff more effective by creating a structure that helps them to share ideas and learn from the innovative work currently being undertaken throughout the organisation.” Mr Hodges said.

The SSC has also approved the appointment of a further four initial directors – Mark Heintz, Phillip Morris, Robyn Batten and Allan Thompson – to the new Board.

UnitingCare agencies and WMV operate in metropolitan, regional and remote parts of Victoria and Tasmania offering a broad range of services and advocacy to support thousands of vulnerable people.

With a combined annual budget of approximately $237 million, 3,500 staff and 4,000 volunteers, UnitingCare and WMV‘s services include emergency relief, financial counselling, housing and homelessness services, employment services, early childhood services, child, youth and family services, disability services, mental health services, non-residential aged care, alcohol and other drugs services and Lifeline.

The new single Agency Board will assume governance when all funders have formally agreed to service contracts continuing under the proposed new structure. This is expected to occur before the end of the year.

At the weekend the SSC met with three agencies – Kildonan UnitingCare, ReGen UnitingCare and UnitingCare Ballarat – that expressed concerns about the changes.

Following the meeting, the SSC affirmed the implementation of a single board of governance for community services in the Synod. They requested that current boards and CEOs be invited to continue to collaborate in further refinement and implementation of the new Agency’s governance and operational arrangements.

In a joint statement the Chairs of three agencies said they acknowledged and appreciated the opportunity to convey their concerns to the SSC and welcomed its commitment to further consultation.

“However, we are disappointed the subsequent SSC resolution did not address our particular proposal to slow down the process and implement a phased approach, to better mitigate against the significant risks we see associated with merging 26 agencies in one manoeuvre.

“Our concerns around the issues below remain, and we look forward to working with other agencies and the new Chair and Board members in particular, with whom we shall continue to advocate for the change process to be given the time it deserves, particularly with regard to:

  • Continuing service innovation and delivery
  • Local responsiveness and meaningful local connections
  • Client wellbeing and client participation in service governance
  • Partner and funder relationships.
  • Grass root supporter relationships
  • Retention of staff and expertise.”

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