In the first of a series of blogs on our policy work, Head of Policy Kirsten Hogg reflects on our work and achievements over the last year.

It’s that time of year again, when pulling together your annual review gives you a moment to draw breath and consider the year just past.  In a year of unprecedented pace and change, there is much to reflect on. 

For the SCVO Policy team, like many others, the early part of 2021/22 was dominated by Covid.  The focus of much of our work was on ensuring that the sector’s voice was heard in the many forums relating to Scotland’s response to and recovery from the pandemic; working with colleagues across the sector, we gathered views that enabled us to respond to the Scottish Government’s Framework for Decision Making, the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery and the Social Renewal Advisory Board, securing reasonable attention for the sector in the latter two.  Our work on Covid also included facilitating opportunities for the sector to speak to decision makers including the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and the COSLA President.   

My main point of learning from all of this work is that the sector is viewed much more as a social than an economic actor by government, and that our role as a significant employer is often overlooked.  These issues of perception can have a significant practical impact, for example the drafting of guidance on Business Support Grants during Covid initially meant that the sector was not eligible, although once we made contact to explain the business implications for some voluntary organisations, the eligibility criteria were extended by government.  We will seek to tackle these misconceptions through our policy and campaigns work in the coming year and beyond. 

While much of our work saw us viewing the world through a Covid lens, it is striking that the vast majority of issues we were working on related to the policy priorities that we had identified for our work just before the pandemic hit: funding, partnership, the sector’s role as an employer and in the economy were all very pertinent to our Covid-related discussions.  In each of these areas we also carried out a range of ‘business as usual work’, and the Scottish Parliament’s pre-budget scrutiny process allowed us to bring many of these issues together in our written and oral submissions to a number of committees.  Again, we were successful in keeping the sector on committee’s agendas (including the Equalities Committee chamber debate on valuing the third sector), but the challenge will be in securing implementation of recommendations and commitments, and with that in mind we have embarked on a year long process of tracking progress against the Scottish Government’s budget commitments. 

The other major event last year was of course Brexit, and while in many ways the pandemic has masked some of the impact of Brexit on the sector (or at least meant it was not in such sharp focus), we will keep up our lobbying of the UK government on successor funding to fill the gap to be left by the end of European funding, and together with partners continue to highlight the impact on the sector’s workforce and volunteers. 

Our most tangible successes over the past year come in the policy area of regulation, where we keep abreast of a wide range of legislation relating to regulatory issues from freedom of information to charity law.  In 2020/21, our work in this area prevented legislative changes which could have impacted on the use of charitable funds (and in turn on trust in fundraising) and on charities’ ability to defend themselves against defamation – good examples of where one line in a Bill could have a considerable unintended impact on the sector’s operating environment.  Our recommendations on the review of the Lobbying Act were also prominent in the Committee’s final report. 

As we focus in on our five priority areas, last year also saw us transitioning out of some previous areas of work, ensuring that the sector was still well represented in those areas through thematic intermediaries or other groupings of voluntary organisations.  As our swan song from the Sustainable Development Goals Network, we successfully delivered a national review of Scotland’s progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals in partnership with the Scottish Government, which has been recognised internationally as an example of good practice. 

2020/21 was undoubtedly a busy and unprecedented year, and there is much to be proud of, but our aspirations are bigger.  This year brings us a new Parliament, and in reflecting on our recent hustings event we have much to do to ensure that parliamentarians have a strong enough understanding of the sector’s role and challenges to make the decisions we need them to to improve our operating environment and let us play the vital role that we can and should in Scotland’s recovery and development. 

Find out more about our priorities and plans in forthcoming blogs and on the policy web page.