It might feel as though we are coming to the end of the budget process. However, the new-ish parliamentary process calls for scrutiny and engagement all year round. That’s what we plan to do.

This long-read article outlines how SCVO will continue engagement on the budget, how you can inform this work, and some reflections on the budget announcement we heard.      

Where to from here?

SCVO’s focus will continue to be on the changes voluntary organisations need for a sustainable operating environment in Scotland. We want to see evidence that the sector is being listened to, and this is where you can help.

We’ve noted all the significant statements made by decision-makers in recent months. Looking ahead, we’ll monitor these issues through dialogue with the sector, government, and parliament and regularly report on what we find.

While the sector was missing from the budget statement, and the budget document mostly looked back rather than forward when referring to the sector, ministerial responses to the various committee pre-budget reports reveal the government’s awareness of specific issues.

Learning from practice

Responding to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, the Minister recognised the importance of streamlined funds, three-year funding, and the option to apply for core and project costs. The new Delivering Equally Safe and Supporting Equality and Human Rights funds were noted as examples of where such practice will occur.

Do you receive funding from the Equalities and Human Rights Budget? Do you plan to apply to one of the two new streamlined funds? We want to start a dialogue to monitor your experience confidentially and learn from what works and what does not.  

Long-term and timely funding

Ministerial responses to committees specifically addressed the importance of long-term funding stability and timely payments to organisations, re-confirming government’s commitment to seeking to extend three-year rolling funding where possible. But how does the government plan to ‘actively progress this,’ in what areas, and how can challenges be overcome?

Again, we have heard from organisations that are still waiting on confirmation of funding for next year, without a clear indication of the timescale and process. SCVO has alerted the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Communities to the issue. We understand that contact has been made with Ministers of other portfolios.

Are you waiting to confirm your funding for next year without any indication of process and timescales? We would like to hear from you to understand where the issues lie and its impact on you.

Positive partnerships

The Local Government and Communities Committee asked the government to consider applying good practice from partnership working with the sector on homelessness to other areas. It was a good question, yet the response did little but describe outputs.

Many ministerial responses drew attention to the recent report from the Social Renewal Advisory Board, a welcome addition to drive forward progress on positive partnerships. However, the government’s response to SRAB must be ambitious, and it should see the report for what it is – a call to action, not one for more plans with nice words that lack deliverables.

We are always looking for case studies or experience that can remain confidential to demonstrate good partnerships. We also want to hear your thoughts on the Scottish Government’s response to the SRAB report, which we wait for in anticipation. We want to listen to your views and experience.   

We have outlined some of the ways you can support our policy and influencing work. It would be great to hear if you can contribute to any of the above. Have something else you’d like to share with us? Contact me at paul.bradley@scvo.org.uk

Reflecting on what we heard

The sector’s omission from the Cabinet Secretary’s budget statement did little to further mutual understanding and trust. It was a conspicuous gap amongst praise for the many other parts of society that have responded heroically to the pandemic.

When probed on the voluntary sector’s absence, the Cabinet Secretary offered to weigh up additional support funding in April. This provided little certainty that government will support the sector with additional COVID funding beyond this financial year. The response also failed to recognise the vital contribution of voluntary organisations in a long list of national and local priorities.

While there is undoubtedly funding for the sector’s vital contribution to mental health, regeneration, employability, and more, we can only assume money will flow to the sector. It is impossible to know what overall funding increases will mean; this is particularly true for areas dependent on local government following national spending directions. The budget flounders on transparency and clarity once again.

The budget document outlined the vital support provided in 2020, while the Community & Third Sector Recovery Programme remains open until March 31st. Still, there was no focus on what the future has in store.

However, this is only the beginning. The back-to-front arrangement of the Scottish and UK budgets means the calculations are likely to change. An additional £1.1billion in COVID related consequentials has already been confirmed this week.

The uncertainty felt throughout this year will continue into next, with continued dialogue, policy decisions and budget adjustments required to navigate the pandemic. The government will need to work with the sector to determine what further support is necessary. It should also listen to calls from the sector to recognise our organisations for their significant collective contribution to Scotland’s society and economy.

What are your impressions of this year’s budget? Have you struggled to unpick what it all means for your organisation and the people you support? Again, we would like to hear from you.

If you would like to discuss any of the content in this article, please contact paul.bradley@scvo.org.uk