Earlier this week it was my pleasure to host a webinar to launch our Never More Needed short film, and bring together a panel to discuss what we can learn from the pandemic about the sector’s role.

The film reflects the vital role voluntary organisations play throughout our lives.  Watching it brings a tear to my eye, but it also ends on a note of pure joy. Charities, community groups and social enterprises make our lives so much richer and that has never been as clear as over the last year. 

Our speakers explored what the legacy of the pandemic might look like, identifying three key areas for change: relationships, money and implementation.

Nigel Henderson from Penumbra summed it up in just one word: trust. And Michelle Carruthers from Food Train urged us to find ways for the public and voluntary sectors to have adult conversations as equal and proper partners.  These key themes have been around for at least ten years since the Christie report, but we all reckoned there were particular challenges in the current context of increasing tribalism and the demise of nuance. 

Kezia Dugdale of the John Smith Centre also reflected on the impact of infrastructure on the cultures that define these relationships, and we all agreed that the dynamics of a purchaser/provider relationship and the instability of annual funding are very real barriers to the more equal relationships that we aspire to.  Within the context of the economic crisis that’s following the health crisis, financial challenges will come even more to the fore. 

Relationships with the public sector and funding are both priority areas for SCVO’s policy and influencing work, and we’ll be pursuing a range of issues throughout the year, including following up the commitment to multi-annual funding made by all the main parties in their manifestos.  We know this will be challenging.  We’ve seen these on-paper commitments many times before, and the implementation gap looms large.  As noted during the webinar, Scotland is in danger of becoming a nation known for having excellent policies that aren’t implemented. 

The challenge, then, is to try something new.  During the webinar Michelle wondered aloud whether we are collectively bold enough and brave enough to have those difficult conversations, and we’ll soon have a chance to find out!  While still in the early planning stages, aspirations for our strategic partnership with COSLA and Scottish Government are high, opening up a space for stakeholders from all sectors to talk and to listen to unpick some of the barriers to jointly achieving our goals for society. 

 All partners have recognised the huge challenges posed by the implementation gap, so the first steps of Strengthening Collaboration include mapping the many reports and recommendations that already exist around better joint working to stop us reinventing the wheel. It will also give us a more forensic examination of the barriers to implementation and help us understand each other’s challenges and develop solutions together.  For this to work, stakeholders from all sectors need to engage with openness and a willingness to change; we’re acutely aware of the need for everyone to have the opportunity to be involved throughout the process. We’re working with partners to finalise how this will look and anticipate more information about how you can work with us in early summer. 

My final reflection during the webinar was that during a crisis all eyes are on outcomes for people. The focus is on what we want to achieve – how we achieve it falls into place behind it.  If we’re serious about achieving better outcomes for people and communities, we must reach a place where our collective focus is on those people and communities, and we trust one another to deliver. I know that won’t be achieved overnight, but my colleagues and I are committed to the boldness and bravery required to finally chip away at that implementation gap. 

We launched #NeverMoreNeeded because right from the start of the pandemic it was clear the voluntary sector was an essential element of Scotland’s response, and it has provided a public platform for organisations to make that visible. We will continue this work under a new banner because one thing SCVO has always known, and we want everyone else to know too, is that Scotland’s voluntary organisations are crucial now and in the future.

A recording of the webinar is available here:

Watch the #NeverMoreNeeded film clip here: