The framing of a government budget is to identify the priorities and ensure funds reach where they’re needed the most. That delicate process has become fraught with difficulty and trade-offs for local and devolved governments since the financial crash. Each autumn, our policy and public affairs function focuses on the Scottish budget. As for many voluntary organisations, we hope our evidence will lead to well-thought-through policies, plans and the allocation of resources to where it’s needed the most.
Last year’s pre-budget scrutiny report from the Scottish Parliament on ‘Valuing the Third Sector‘ was a welcome and valuable contribution. None of the content came as a shock to those in the sector. Still, it was well articulated by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. I was frustrated with the unconvincing responses to some of these recommendations and was therefore pleased the committee revisited this work during pre-budget scrutiny this year.
The points raised in that 2019 report have been thrust into the limelight, from a lack of sustainable funding to the importance of balanced relationships between voluntary bodies and local government. SCVO’s evidence to committees this year has hammered home the point that the pandemic has shone a light on and exacerbated the issues which already existed for the sector. If you’ve not read Kirsten Hogg’s article on SCVO defining our lane during coronavirus, you should check it out. We have stuck to our lane during this year’s pre-budget scrutiny discussions, submitting five briefings to three committees and giving oral evidence as well.
To the Local Government and Communities Committee, our submission addressed the interconnected finances of the government and the voluntary sector. The inquiry was focused on the role and needs of local government. Still, a discussion about local government finance must consider the voluntary sector’s place in this complex system. We also demonstrated positive examples of where local government and the voluntary sector came together during the pandemic – thank you to those organisations that submitted case studies to us.
For the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, our evidence covered voluntary sector’s contribution as a significant economic actor and employer and the need for long-term funding models, a flexible approach to procurement, and supporting digital inclusion in Scotland. Digital inclusion was a big topic for discussion across many committees’ pre-budget scrutiny, including calls for a long-term plan to build on the government’s investment in digital connectivity during the pandemic. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy spoke at length about the social and economic contribution of voluntary organisations, and how she was ‘struck by the role of the voluntary sector in helping to protect and generate jobs.’
We also submitted evidence in partnership with Social Enterprise Scotland, aiming to ensure the sector has fair access to Scotland’s new National Investment Bank (SNIB). This built on changes we secured to the SNIB legislation in 2019 and the work we have been doing to challenge the private-sector narrative around the bank. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy recognised that language and communications can be a barrier, and more could be done to promote the role of the voluntary sector in Scotland’s economic recovery. We also showcased the sector’s role in supporting the skills development of young people hit hardest by the pandemic, drawing on SCVO’s experience in managing Community Jobs Scotland (CJS). This included a clear outline of practical steps and ideas to implement a job guarantee scheme.
Our final submission reminded the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of their report and its recommendations as part of last year’s pre-budget scrutiny – valuable contributions such as this should not be forgotten nor skirted around. We discussed how the issues identified are now more critical than ever and reiterated our messaging on funding and partnership working. The committee’s debate on valuing the third sector, taking place on Tuesday 1st December, is another opportunity to address these issues a year since it published that report.
The pandemic presents the most significant challenge we’ve faced in generations. The social, political, and economic responsibilities of our governments are monumental. We are not naïve to that, but well thought-through national and local budgets are therefore essential to manage resources wisely. We will continue our activity around next year’s Scottish budget to strengthen understanding of the sector’s place in Scotland’s economy and to secure crucial short- and long-term funding and support asks.