A new strategic partnership has been launched to boost collaboration between the voluntary sector and national and local government.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and the Scottish Government have committed to a long- term partnership to strengthen collaboration, following successful partnership work in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A joint statement prepared to mark the launch of The Strengthening Collaboration project said: “The immediate response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland was shaped by incredible collaborations between communities, the third sector and national and local government. As we responded to the emergency, barriers to effective partnership working across sectors were overcome in the short term to the benefit of our communities, demonstrating what can be achieved on a large scale when we are empowered to work together towards a common goal.

“SCVO, COSLA and the Scottish Government have committed to a long- term partnership to strengthen collaboration between the third sector and local and national government, learning from the last 12 months as well as work undertaken prior to the pandemic. In doing so, we will work collectively to fully understand and address the factors that negatively impact partnership work, seeking to embed change that will continue to enhance our collective contribution to Scotland’s communities.

“Our first priority is to ensure we have a full understanding of the barriers to collaboration across the sectors, at both a local and a national level, in the current context. We will be drawing on the findings from relevant research and reports, including the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee report on third sector sustainability, the Local Governance Review and the Social Renewal Advisory Board. We also want to expand on and enhance that work. In the first instance we will all look to engage more widely across the third sector and public sector to ensure a diversity of perspectives and views can be heard and we continue to build strong, trusting relationships.

“Ultimately, we want effective partnership work to become the norm. We know that won’t happen overnight and that it will require determination to do things differently, empathy to understand others and joined up action if we are to lead systemic change. It will be a long term, iterative process that will rely on all partners to break down barriers and recognise opportunities. We are committing today to that task and look forward to making progress together.”

Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of SCVO, said: “The Strengthening Collaboration project is an exciting opportunity to tackle a range of perennial issues that have frustrated the voluntary sector for many years. By having both local and national government around the table with us, I believe that all partners will gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives and find collaborative solutions, ensuring that we jointly deliver for the people and communities we serve.   

“We all know from experience that this process will not be easy, and actions will often not be straightforward, but that is why we must persevere. By taking an approach that combines a focus on implementation with a recognition of the complex systems we operate in, I am hopeful that we will see quick wins where those are possible as well as giving the necessary time to address some of the stickier issues relating to trust, power and resources. 

“It is vital that this work takes account of the diversity and complexity of our sector, and we are thinking creatively about how best to ensure that the fullest range of voices can be heard. In recognising the particular importance of balancing local and national perspectives within the work, we are delighted that our colleagues in the TSI Network will partner with us in this joint work.”

COSLA President Alison Evison said: “Local government, the third sector and the Scottish Government share common goals in listening to the voices of and seeking to ensure the best possible outcomes for the communities we collectively work with and serve.

“There are many positive examples of partnership work between us, with high profile examples during the Covid-19 response demonstrating what it is possible to achieve. However, we all recognise that there are long-standing, systemic factors that can limit effective partnership and be detrimental to our shared objectives. COSLA, SCVO and the Scottish Government are committed to working collectively to fully understand these challenges and address them together; I look forward to working with colleagues in SCVO and Scottish Government as this work progresses.”

Aileen Campbell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, said: “The last 12 unprecedented months have been challenging, harsh and traumatic. In amongst that challenge have been inspiring acts of kindness and solidarity by communities, volunteers, and the wider third and public sectors as they stepped up to look after and care for those that needed support.  The third sector, with its characteristic energy and nimbleness, responded to many of the issues posed by Covid and in doing so, enhanced the country’s resilience.

“What this experience has shown and reinforced, is what can be achieved when we work together towards a common goal. We cannot afford to lose that momentum and nor can we revert back to the way things were.  As we relied on the third sector during Covid, they now rely on us to help secure a fair and sustainable future. And so I am delighted to have helped get the dialogue started for action which will strengthen collaboration between national and local government and the third sector.”