As I contemplate prospects and challenges for the new year of 2021, the first thought that comes to mind is the fundamental difference between this type of thinking now, and how we used to think about it in previous years. The pandemic means endemic and heightened uncertainty in relation to planning events and interactions, in relation to the status of the economy, and in relation to the role of government. Even what seemed basic certainties this time last year (for example, that there would be an FCA conference in May and an FCVic conference in October, that there would be a PD calendar full of in-face sessions) are long gone.
The ‘pivot’ seems like the only new certainty. Thus, FCVic is planning to hold an industry summit event in April, and we are also planning to hold our conference in October, but the extent to which these will be pre-2020 style in-face events will be limited. At least some elements are almost certain to be webcast/involve web based participation, and in the event of a virus outbreak we have to be ready to run the whole thing over Zoom. This is not just because of COVID-19, however. It also reflects the shift in expectations amongst rural and regionally based financial counsellors about a level playing field for access and participation wherever people live and work created by use of zoom meetings. The new normal involves much higher expectations about this, which is a good thing.
2021 is also the year that Victorian State Government funding agreements for the financial counselling sector fall due for renewal and renegotiation. This is in the context of burgeoning growth in Diploma enrolments, significant planned changes by the Federal Government to the sector arising from the Sylvan review, and the likely impacts on society and the economy from impending cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper, debt and eviction moratoria and other pandemic supports. FCVic is advocating with increased urgency for the State Government to work with us to establish a sustainable plan for developing the Victorian financial counselling sector and put it onto a footing that will enable it to work in an integrated fashion with other services to meet community needs. This should include a State Government policy framework linking financial counsellors more effectively with diverse communities alongside family violence services, mental health services, health and aged care services, addiction services, youth services and family services.